By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON,- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced on Wednesday it had filled several important posi
tions, including the head of an office that is handling an ongoing dispute with China and a brand-new office designed to help retail investors.
The agency said it had tapped Paul Leder, a partner at the law firm Richards, Kibbe & Orbe, to head its Office of International Affairs.
That office is critical because it provides support on cross-border enforcement cases and works with foreign regulatory counterparts to craft rules that have a global impact.
The office has been particularly involved in an ongoing diplomatic dispute between the United States and China over access to audit work papers.
The SEC has been seeking to get the audit paperwork to assist with investigations into accounting fraud at China-based companies that are listed in the United States. But audit firms have refused to turn them over, citing Chinese secrecy laws.
Leder joins the SEC at a tense time in SEC-Chinese relations. Several weeks ago, an SEC administrative law judge ordered the Chinese units of the Big Four accounting firms to face a six-month suspension from practicing in the United States for failing to share the audit work.
The case is expected to be appealed to the full five-member commission.
The SEC also said on Wednesday it was hiring Rick Fleming to head up the Office of the Investor Advocate, a new office created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law to assist "Mom and Pop" investors.
Fleming joins the agency from the North American Securities Administrators Association, where he has served as deputy general counsel.
In that position, he has been deeply involved in helping to push the SEC and Congress to draft regulations and laws with a more investor-friendly focus.
The group of state securities regulators has been vocal, for instance, in calling for stronger investor protections in rules that stemmed from the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act.
That 2012 law loosens securities rules to help small businesses raise capital. But critics including NASAA have said it may open the door to more fraud.
In his new role, Fleming will be tasked with facilitating greater communication between retail investors and regulators, and helping gauge the possible impact of new rules.
In addition to Leder and Fleming, the SEC also announced on Tuesday and Wednesday it had made two additional hires.
On Tuesday, it said that Michael Maloney of Navigant Consulting Inc will join as head accountant in the SEC's Enforcement Division.
In that role he will help provide expertise on investigations into accounting fraud and financial reporting, an area of greater focus by the SEC under the leadership of the agency's chair, Mary Jo White.
The SEC also Wednesday said that David Fredrickson, an assistant general counsel at the SEC since 1998, in March will become associate director and chief council in the Division of Corporation Finance.