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(Reuters) — The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reported Wednesday it had assessed about $4.3 billion in fines and disgorgement, or the return of ill-gotten gains, in fiscal 2019, up from $3.9 billion a year earlier.
That amount, gathered across 862 enforcement actions for 2019, is up from the 821 cases the regulator assessed in 2018. It is also the highest number of cases and largest amount collected under SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, who took over the agency in 2017.
The SEC also said it had returned $1.2 billion to harmed investors, barred or suspended nearly 600 people from securities markets, and suspended trading in 271 companies.
The uptick was more notable given there was a "near complete cessation" in enforcement activity during a 35-day government shutdown in 2018 and 2019, the SEC said.
A new SEC initiative helped boost the agency's figures, it said. That project allowed investment advisory firms to self-report violations of conflict of interest rules to avoid a fine, and resulted in 95 firms coming forward and returning $135 million to affected investors.
"By any measure, we believe the Division had a very successful year," Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peiken, co-directors of the SEC's enforcement division, said in a statement.
Argo Group International Holdings Ltd. has received a subpoena from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over its executive pay compensation practices, and its independent directors are now conducting a governance and compensation review, the Bermuda-based insurer said Tuesday.