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N.H. Bureau Files Against ING

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The New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation has charged two U.S. units of ING Groep with disclosing too little information about the company’s mutual fund sales practices.

The bureau filed a cease-and-desist order against ING Life Insurance and Annuity Company and ING Financial Advisors, administrator of the state’s deferred compensation plan for employees.

The order charged ING with inadequate disclosure of information to bureau investigators looking into charges the company had permitted market-timed trades in mutual funds and hidden financial relationships with brokers selling mutual funds it administered.

The Bureau began its investigation in 2004 when ING admitted in a financial filing it had been subject to so-called market timing and late trading of funds it managed for the state.

Market timing is a practice in which an investor, such as a pension fund, frequently trades a security, intending to maximize profits. Where a fund administrator allows the practice, it can increase costs and harm overall performance for other investors in those funds.

In late trading, a fund allows a few select investors to buy mutual fund shares after the close of securities markets, which is not allowable under securities laws.

In October 2005, the National Association of Securities Dealers acted to stop ING from allowing market timing activities, settling its charges with the company for $2.9 million.

The Bureau alleges the activities probably reduced income for the state’s plan.

The Bureau also alleges ING engaged in revenue sharing, where brokers allegedly made improper cash payments to ING in exchange for being part of its sales network. The practice, known as “pay to play,” was a conflict of interest for brokers selling the fund to the deferred compensation plan, the Bureau maintained.

For all these alleged practices, the company failed to produce relevant documents, had faulty records-retention practices, and generally did not disclose documents and e-mails at the center of the state’s case, the Bureau said.

The company’s alleged lack of cooperation made it difficult for the Bureau to conduct its investigation, the order said.

“ING disputes the allegations made by New Hampshire Bureau and intend to defend ourselves fully,” says Dana Ripley, an ING USA spokesman.