The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has obtained a freeze on what it says are illicit proceeds from insider trading in Anadarko Petroleum ahead of the announcement of a takeover offer by Chevron.
A New York judge on Monday granted the freeze on accounts linked to large purchases of call option contracts in Anadarko between between Feb. 8 and April 1.
“The timing, size, nature and profitability of the [trades], as well as the lack of prior history of significant Anadarko options trading in the subject accounts, make the trades at issue highly suspicious,” the SEC said in a civil complaint against defendants it described only as one or more unknown traders.
According to the commission, the traders have made, or stand to make, $2.5 million in illicit profits.
Anardarko shares jumped 32% to $61.78 after Chevron’s $33 billion, or $65-per-share, bid was made public on April 12. Another oil company, Occidental Petroleum, launched an unsolicited $38 billion, or $76-per-share, offer on April 24.
The SEC said the illicit trading began two days after Chevron delivered a written proposal to Anadarko on Feb. 6, with a brokerage account holder at Cowen International in the U.K. paying $49,875 for 250 calls with a strike price of $40.
Further purchases were made through the Cowen account on March 22 and March 25 and through an account at Renaissance Securities in Cyprus on April 1.
Following the announcement of the Chevron offer, the SEC said, the options buyers profited by either selling contracts at a profit or exercising the options to acquire large positions of Anadarko stock at steep discounts.
The Cowen account holder’s $49,875 investment yielded a net profit of $494,000 from the sale of 25,000 Anadarko shares acquired by exercising the options at $40 per share.
“In light of defendants’ large, unprecedented purchases of Anadarko calls before the announcement … defendants purchased the calls while in possession of material, nonpublic information concerning a proposed acquisition of Anadarko,” the SEC said.