Biovail, Canada’s largest publicly traded drug manufacturer, has been in the news probably more than it would like lately. It has had problems with its financial performance, with securities regulators and with its former CEO, Eugene Melnyk. When Mr. Melnyk was at the helm of the company, it was not exactly known for its exemplary corporate governance practices. The board culture worked well for Mr. Melynk, however. For 2001 and 2002 alone, he took home more than $188 million.
While the company did clean up its governance act in some ways, Mr. Melnyk still managed to run afoul of securities regulators in Canada and the United States. Last year, he settled with the OSC on charges of failing to file proper insider trading reports. Since then, new enforcement actions have been taken against him (and certain other past and current Biovail employees) by the SEC and the OSC in connection with accounting statements. It will be interesting to watch whether the OSC, not known in recent years for its vigorous prosecution of securities violators, will come down harder on Mr. Melnyk because of his previous encounter with that agency. We’ve posted a few thoughts on this saga over the past year.
The current issue of Canadian Business contains some comments from an interview with me on the Biovail/Melnyk travails.
Last week, we received inquiries from the press asking for a comment on Eugene Melnyk’s plans to change the board of Biovail. The published versions omitted our most important point: the SEC’s probe into Mr. Melnyk and Biovail may be the biggest factor in determining any influence he has in the future of the company. The second shoe in the investigation dropped today with the SEC bringing civil charges of accounting fraud against Mr. Melnyk and several other parties. Similar proceedings were also brought in Toronto by the Ontario Securities Commission.
We expect Mr. Melnyk will be putting his plans for the company he founded on hold for a while. He was at the helm of Biovail when the alleged improprieties occurred and his griping about the state of the company now is a little like Conrad Black lambasting the board and management of Hollinger Inc., and its Sun-Times Media Group subsidiary, from his baronial power base at the Coleman federal prison complex in Florida.
The complaints also included proceedings against Biovail’s most senior financial officials: current Controller John Miszuk and current CFO Kenneth Howling. The company has announced that they have been reassigned to other positions in the organization. Biovail needs to be more specific about how close those roles are to financial functions in the company as the market does not generally respond well when so many past and current officials are the subject of regulatory proceedings, especially those involving fraud. (See Hollinger).
The company itself paid a $10 million penalty to the SEC for its role in the alleged accounting scheme.