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Blis censured, fined $30,000 over Sinopharm disclosure breach

Friday 12th December 2014

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Blis Technologies, the NZX listed biotech company, has been ordered to pay $30,000 plus costs for breaching continuous disclosure rules when chief executive Barry Richardson was caught on the fly in an interview with the Sunday Star Times newspaper in August.

The New Zealand markets disciplinary tribunal publicly censured the Dunedin based firm, and ordered the penalty after finding Blis breached continuous disclosure obligations when the chief executive told a Fairfax Media publication its oral probiotics product would be distributed in 600 stores in China by pharmaceutical firm, Sinopharm, before informing the NZX. The stock market operator sought a penalty of $30,000, which matched two similar decisions.

"In imposing this penalty, the tribunal wishes to emphasise that compliance with the continuous disclosure requirements in the rules is of fundamental importance to the integrity of the market," the tribunal said. "Material information must be immediately released to the market unless a permitted exception applies and must not be released to a member of the public before its release to NZX."

Last month Blis said it faced a claim from the NZX disciplinary unit, and estimated total costs would come in below $50,000.

The tribunal said the breach was "particularly serious" because Blis didn't recognise that the Sinopharm expansion was material, but also released the information to a journalist before the market, "with the result that the market was not operating on a fully informed basis (albeit for what appears to be only a relatively short period of time)."

The tribunal accepted that Blis moved relatively quickly in response to the article of its own volition to make an announcement, but failed to do so before trading.

"In the tribunal's view, that announcement should have been made in time for release to the market before trading commenced on 25 August 2014," it said. "The tribunal also notes that there is no evidence (or at least no evidence was provided) that anyone in the market had access to the information before the article was published."

It also noted Blis has appointed an executive director to take the pressure off the chief executive.

Blis told the inquiry its chief executive was caught unprepared by the journalist, as calls wouldn't normally go straight through to him, and changes have since been made "to ensure that no one will give impromptu interviews and that it will be a requirement that what is being published is reviewed by BLT first."

Shares of Blis last traded at 2.1 cents, valuing the company at $23.1 million.


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