Balsillie receives award amid allegations of financial impropriety

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RIM CEO Jim BalsillieThe Globe and Mail was on hand last Thursday for an award luncheon in honor of RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie, who was named ‘Outstanding Business Leader of the Year’ by Wilfrid Laurier University. The event gained additional poignancy because it came on the same day news broke that Canadian regulators were seeking C$100 million from Co-CEO’s Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis for their role in a stock option accounting controversy dating back to 1996. While the luncheon crowd was clearly biased in their defense of Mr. Balsillie at the event (Joan Fisk, CEO of the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, referred to Balsillie as “our boy”), significant questions as to the political timing of the charges.

Last week, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said he will push ahead with the creation of a national securities regulator, after the release of the final report on the subject, conducted by a panel appointed by Mr. Flaherty and led by former Conservative cabinet minister Tom Hockin.

“I’m absolutely opposed to what the OSC has proposed here. I think it is grandstanding of the highest magnitude and opportunistic given the Hockin report has just come out and all of a sudden the OSC wants to be seen as a regulatory tiger that has teeth. It’s no coincidence whatsoever,” Mr. Foerster said.

“All they’ve done is found individuals with the greatest pockets,” he added. “If I were Balsillie or Lazaridis, I would fight this all the way given the OSC’s track record with respect to litigation.”

Some have argued however, that regardless of timing, the Canadian government is sending a clear and important message to the business community. Wrong is wrong, right?

Legal experts say the size of the proposed settlement is designed to grab attention in the business world. “What it clearly underscores for all people involved in the public market is that falsification of documents filed with public authorities is a very serious offense,” said Eric Belli-Bivar, a lawyer with Davis & Co. LLP in Toronto who specializes in stock options.

Post a comment and let us know if you feel the OSC’s pursuit of Mr. Balsillie and Mr. Lazaridis is a political whack job, or simply good governance needed in a time of shaky economies caused by financial irresponsibility.

|via Globe and Mail|