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SEC chair calls for tough penalties for wrongdoing

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(Reuters) — U.S. securities regulators plan to "make aggressive use" of their authority to levy penalties, the head of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said Thursday.

"Meaningful monetary penalties — whether against companies or individuals - play a very important role in a strong enforcement program," SEC Chair Mary Jo White said in a speech in Chicago, according to prepared remarks.

"They make companies and the industry sit up and take notice of what our expectations are and how vigorously we will pursue wrongdoing," she said.

In a speech before the Council of Institutional Investors, White detailed her approach to enforcement and described efforts to use penalties and remedies more creatively than the agency has in the past.

White, who was sworn in as the head of the SEC in April, is a former federal prosecutor who has brought in other officials with strong enforcement resumes.

The SEC has sought authority from Congress to levy harsher penalties, but that legislation has stalled, forcing the agency to maximize its existing powers.

Besides penalties, White said the SEC should consider requiring the company at issue to adopt measures that would make the misconduct less likely to occur again.

In cases involving foreign corruption, for example, the agency often requires companies to implement better training and reporting programs.

Defendants should expect the SEC to use such requirements more often in other cases, Ms. White said.

"When we enter into a settlement with a company involving systems control failures, for example, we should consider mandating new policies and procedures and other controls, and require that a compliance consultant test these controls," Ms. White said.