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Over $3.3 Million Charges Against Morgan Stanley Investment Management for Improper Fee Arrangement

Written by Jay Gould

On Wednesday, November 16, 2011, the SEC charged Morgan Stanley Investment Management (“MSIM”) with violating securities laws in a fee arrangement that costs a fund and its investors approximately $1.8 million in sub-adviser fees.

MSIM is the primary adviser to The Malaysia Fund (the “Fund”), a closed-end investment company that invests in equity securities of Malaysian companies.  AMMB Consultant Sendirian Berhad (“AMMB”) was an SEC registered adviser located in Malaysia.  AMMB is a wholly owned subsidiary of AM Bank Group, one of the largest banking groups in Malaysia.  Pursuant to a Research and Advisory Agreement entered into by the Fund with AMMB and MSIM in 1987, AMMB undertook to provide advice, research and assistance to MSIM for the benefit of the Fund.  Every year AMMB submitted a report to MSIM which MSIM provided to the Fund’s board of directors in its evaluation for the renewal of the advisory and sub-advisory agreements.  The board evaluated and approved AMMB’s sub-adviser agreement based on representations from MSIM that AMMB was providing advisory services to the Fund.  AMMB did not actually provide those advisory services.  MSIM also prepared and filed the Fund’s annual and semi-annual reports to investors that inaccurately represented AMMB’s services. 

The SEC found that “MSIM failed its duty to provide the fund’s board members with the information they needed to fulfill their significant responsibility of reviewing and approving the sub-adviser’s contract.”  In addition, MSIM did not adopt and implement policies and procedures governing the advisory contract renewal process and its oversight of AMMB.

According to the SEC’s order, MSIM willfully violated Section 15(c) and 34(b) of the Investment Company Act and Section 206(2) and (4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, and Rule 206(4)-7 thereunder. 

The SEC ordered MSIM to pay the Fund $1.845 million as reimbursement of the advisory fees the Fund paid to AMMB from 1987 to 2008.  MSIM was also ordered to pay $1.5 million penalty fee.  MSIM agreed to pay over $3.3 million to settle the SEC’s charges. 

A full text of the SEC release and order are available here.