Photo of Seetha Ramachandran

Seetha Ramachandran is a partner in the Litigation Department, and a member of the White Collar and Asset Management Litigation practices. An experienced trial and appellate lawyer, Seetha has conducted 10 criminal jury trials, argued 10 appeals before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and handled ancillary civil proceedings in forfeiture cases.

Seetha is a leading expert in anti-money laundering (AML), Bank Secrecy Act, economic sanctions and asset forfeiture matters. Her practice focuses on white collar and regulatory enforcement defense, internal investigations, and compliance counseling. She represents banks, broker dealers, hedge funds, private equity funds, online payment companies, and individual executives and officers in high stakes and sensitive matters. Seetha has deep experience representing institutions and individuals in financial penalty phase of criminal and regulatory matters, and is often retained to litigate forfeiture and restitution claims on behalf of victims and third parties in criminal cases, as well as handling these issues for individual defendants.

Seetha served as a federal prosecutor for nearly 10 years, including as Deputy Chief in the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section (AFMLS), Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice. She was the first head of DOJ’s Money Laundering & Bank Integrity Unit, where she supervised DOJ’s first major AML prosecutions, and oversaw all of the Criminal Division’s AML cases. In that role, Seetha coordinated closely with state and federal banking regulators, including FinCEN, the OCC and the New York State Department of Financial Services, giving her deep experience with how these agencies work together, especially in matters involving civil and criminal liability. Her work developing and charging criminal cases under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) formed the model for AML enforcement that regulators and prosecutors follow today.

Seetha also served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York for nearly six years, in the Complex Frauds, Major Crimes and Asset Forfeiture units where she investigated and prosecuted white-collar cases involving a wide range of financial crimes, including bank fraud, mail and wire fraud, tax fraud, money laundering, stolen art and cultural property, and civil and criminal forfeiture cases.

Seetha is a frequent speaker and prolific author on topics including enforcement trends in the financial services industry, OFAC sanctions, effective AML programs and asset forfeiture.

The SEC’s new and proposed rules on cybersecurity and cyber-incident reporting will have a dual impact on private investment advisers and funds. 

First, the proposal by the SEC will impose cybersecurity related obligations on investment advisers, registered investment companies and business development companies, with a final rule in this sector (the “adviser cybersecurity rule”) expected in April 2024. 

In its final Private Fund Adviser Rules adopted last year, the SEC dropped one of the more controversial proposed rules—the proposal to prohibit contractual exculpation or indemnification provisions that would shield or indemnify the adviser in matters involving the adviser’s negligence or breach of fiduciary duty.  On its face, this was a concession to the fund management industry. However, the Rule’s Adopting Release asserted that the SEC believed the provision was not needed because the antifraud provisions of the Advisers Act already prohibited certain provisions that would be covered by the proposal. Because the SEC’s interpretation was based on current law (there is no grandfathering or “implementation date” in the future), we predict that contractual indemnification or exculpation provisions will remain firmly in the SEC’s sights for 2024. SEC exams and enforcement proceedings are likely to focus on these provisions, and they may be implicated in GP/LP disputes as well.

Adviser-led secondary transactions have seen explosive growth over the last five years.  That growth has brought increased regulatory concerns over the conflicts of interests inherent in these transactions and a perceived lack of transparency into this market.  New SEC rules adopted in 2023 will arm regulators with additional tools to identify, exam and investigate market practices.  It is therefore critical for managers running an adviser-led secondary transaction to not only comply with the new rules as they become effective but to structure any such transaction with the SEC’s concerns in mind. 

2023’s excitement for generative artificial intelligence (AI) prompted the SEC to respond on multiple fronts – stump speeches, rulemaking, new exam priorities and sweeps and previewing potential enforcement actions. SEC Chair Gary Gensler raised concerns regarding potential conflicts and investor harm resulting from the proliferation of AI and warned that an AI-caused financial crisis is nearly unavoidable absent regulation. The SEC adopted a number of initiatives in 2023 to respond to these perceived risks. 

ESG continues to be a hot topic for 2024 for investors and regulators alike. The specific concerns investors and regulators have – and what they expect to develop over the coming months – differ, however, across jurisdictions, including because of the different maturity of existing regulation between the EU/UK and the US.

Economic headwinds and the interest rate environment that developed over the course of 2023 increased financial stress on portfolio companies and portend heightened litigation risk in 2024 for portfolio companies and their private fund sponsors. Specifically, interest rate increases that accelerated through 2022 continued in 2023, and compounded existing economic stressors including tight liquidity and inflation coming out of 2020 and 2021, as well as increased cost and other burdens related to ESG and regulatory compliance. These pressures put portfolio companies in often unsustainable financial positions, causing them to prematurely seek liquidity events, violate debt covenants with lenders, and resort to bankruptcy, all of which has led to an increase in disputes and litigation, which we expect to continue in 2024.

In a wave of SEC rulemaking this past year, representing a “new world order” event akin to Dodd-Frank, the SEC has provided itself with a fresh set of tools to increase regulatory and enforcement scrutiny on private funds. Among other things, certain of the rules could result in fundamental changes to market practices and greater disclosure to LPs. While ongoing litigation will determine the fates of the Private Fund Adviser Rules, the Short Sale Disclosure Rule, and the Securities Lending Rule, and while other rules are awaiting final adoption, the SEC concerns underlying the rulemaking will continue regardless.   

To understand the litigation and regulatory risks that are coming in 2024 for private capital, it is helpful to look back briefly on recent events. Arguably, the single most important event over the last 18 months was the rapid increase in interest rates by the central banks in the United States, England, and Europe. From March 2022 to August 2023, the Federal Reserve increased interest rates at the fastest clip in more than 40 years, to break inflation that had reached the highest levels since the 1970s.

On November 4, 2022, compliance with amended Rule 206(4)-1 (the “Marketing Rule”) became mandatory for all investment advisers registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”).[1] Seven months since the compliance date, SEC-registered investment advisers continue to discover and adapt to challenges in applying the Marketing Rule. Newly formed advisers also face significant obstacles to marketing with a predecessor-firm track record. It has also impacted advisers’ interaction with placement agents and solicitors. And finally, the SEC has begun assessing advisers’ adherence to the rule through routine compliance examinations. All parties involved continue to adapt to the new environment.

Recent enforcement actions highlight the increased regulatory scrutiny that private funds may face with respect to internal cybersecurity protocols and responses to cyber-crimes and cyber incidents under new and updated cybersecurity laws.