Top Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been caught in another potential insider trading scandal. ProPublica has reported that he abruptly sold off all his shares in an obscure Dutch fertilizer company called OCI in late 2018, and these sales shortly proceeded the stock shares’ value plummeting dramatically after a slew of bad news — including a development from the Trump administration that, in theory, Burr may have had some warning of, although there are no readily apparent definitive answers.
In the latter part of 2018, the fertilizer company’s setbacks included significantly underperforming earnings expectations and facing a waiver from the U.S. that exempted Turkey from sanctions against Iran that otherwise would have penalized the purchase of Iranian industrial products. OCI had been counting on those sanctions to force Turkish markets to look away from Iran for their supplies — to locales like North Africa, where the company has plants.
In an August 2018 earnings report, they’d stated:
‘Exports from Iran, one of the largest urea exporters globally, are at risk of significant curtailments. Sanctions on Iran by the United States will likely reduce Iranian exports of urea.’
By the end of the year, OCI shares had plummeted in value to a full 42 percent below their highest point, which they’d hit in September 2018. Burr eventually actually advocated against the waivers on Iranian sanctions that had allowed Turkey to continue their imports from the country and left OCI out of the loop — but at that time, he did not have a financial stake in OCI any longer.
Behind the scenes, Burr had previously accumulated 1,400 shares of the company, and his stake sported a peak value of approximately $47,670.
John Olson, who has represented individuals before the Securities and Exchange Commission, which investigates insider trading allegations, insisted that stock trading among members of Congress is “reckless” and commented of Burr’s case:
‘It’s certainly something that might prompt an investigation. If I were at the SEC, it would raise a question in my mind… Just on the face of it, it’s unusual. How does he even know this Dutch company exists with all he has to do as chair of the Intelligence Committee and as a senior senator. How does he have time to research obscure companies in Holland?’
Burr is already facing an insider trading allegation after the controversial revelation that shortly after he was briefed about the Coronavirus threat earlier this year, he sold off between $628,000 and $1.72 million of stock ahead of likely stock market crashes that he failed to warn the public about. In fact, around the same time that he sold off that stock, he publicly insisted in an op-ed that Americans hardly had anything to worry about.
In fact, the U.S. had a lot to worry about. Besides the stock market tumult that Burr tried to protect himself from, unemployment claims have skyrocketed. Around ten million people filed for unemployment benefits in the last two and a half weeks or so amidst efforts to close down businesses to use social distancing to stem the Coronavirus spread.