N.H. Alleges Fraud in ING Handling of State Retirement Plans

By | June 15, 2006

New Hampshire securities officials have charged units of Dutch financial services giant ING Groep NV with taking undisclosed payments for promoting poor investments to state employees in their individual retirement plans.

Regulators ordered ING Financial Advisors and ING Life Insurance and Annuity Co. to stop that and a host of other alleged improper practices and to provide information they said the companies so far have withheld.

“It’s a fraud charge under our statute,” Jeff Spill, deputy director in charge of enforcement for the state securities regulation bureau, said Friday.

Dana Ripley, a U.S. spokesman for ING, said the company disputes the allegations and is working with the state to resolve them.

“ING received no improper or undisclosed fees in connection with the New Hampshire plan,” he said. “In the case of the New Hampshire fund, all relevant arrangements were disclosed in the product prospectus.”

Bureau Director Mark Connolly said the state expects ING to request an administrative hearing at which it would respond.

The complaint, filed Thursday, accuses ING of accepting millions of dollars from mutual funds over several years in so-called “revenue sharing” payments to promote their products without telling investors about the payments. During the period, the state was led to believe that funds were put on the investment menu on the basis of performance.

“ING has never received any strategic partner revenue relative to the New Hampshire plan,” Ripley said.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday the funds included those of Fidelity Investments, Pioneer Investments, Capital Research & Management Co.’s American Funds, Amvescap PLC’s Invesco funds, Oppenheimer Funds Inc. and ING Funds.

If disclosed to shareholders in fund literature, such payments are not a problem.

Fidelity told the Journal it discloses its payments. Spokesmen for American Funds and Oppenheimer said their payments are also disclosed.

The state also accused ING of “market timing,” which is frequent trading that can increase a mutual fund’s costs and impair its performance.

The complaint also alleges “late trading” of fund shares after securities markets close for the day, and of moving investments from one family of mutual funds to another without permission to earn higher fees for ING.

Connolly said ING publicly revealed in 2004 that it had participated in market timing, but ING has not answered the state’s request for information. He said the state has been trying to get relevant documents from ING for two years.

Ripley said ING has cooperated with New Hampshire regulators by providing them with thousands of documents since 2004. The only information withheld were e-mails related to attorney-client privilege, he said.

Connolly said he believes the alleged violations are national in scope. Spill said ING administers funds similar to those in the $180 million (euro142million) in other states and may have done the same thing elsewhere.

“We suspect that it has,” Spill said. “A lot of these plans utilize the same mutual funds.”

Spill said potential penalties range from revoking ING’s state license to fines to a restitution order.

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