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SEC enforcement chief resigns over role in Indonesian torture case

Politico | Kellie Mejdrich and Zachary Warmbrodt | Apr 28, 2021

Alex Oh - SEC enforcement chief resigns over role in Indonesian torture caseAlex Oh said in a resignation letter that she was leaving because of a "development" in a case on which she worked as a corporate lawyer.

SEC Chair Gary Gensler's pick to serve as the agency's enforcement director resigned unexpectedly on Wednesday amid mounting criticism from progressives over her work as a corporate defense lawyer.

Alex Oh, who was in private practice for two decades before Gensler announced her new role last week, resigned after a federal judge reprimanded her and others defending oil giant ExxonMobil in a class action lawsuit brought by Indonesian villagers. It was a stunning reversal for the SEC less than two weeks into Gensler's tenure at the helm of the agency.

"In light of the time and attention it will take from me, I have reached the conclusion that I cannot address this development without it becoming an unwelcome distraction to the important work of the division," Oh said in a resignation letter.

Oh walked away from the job as Gensler faced growing concern from progressives on Capitol Hill and in the activism community about his decision to hire a long-time corporate lawyer for one of the government's most powerful posts for overseeing the finance industry.

The episode marked a surprising political backlash from progressives who had cheered Biden's nomination of Gensler, after the former Goldman Sachs partner emerged as a tough banking regulator when he chaired the Commodity Futures Trading Commission during the Obama administration.

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Before it was announced last week that she would join the SEC, Oh worked for two decades at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, where she represented Fortune 100 companies facing government investigations, with clients including Bank of America and ExxonMobil.

Oh was part of a legal team defending ExxonMobil in a lawsuit seeking to hold the company liable for murder and torture by the Indonesian military during civil unrest between 1999 and 2001. Villagers said ExxonMobil should face liability because it hired soldiers to guard natural gas facilities in the country.

Following complaints about the conduct of ExxonMobil's lawyers, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth on Monday admonished Oh and others defending the company. The lawyers for the villagers had told the court that ExxonMobil's defense team had characterized them as "agitated, disrespectful and unhinged."

The SEC did not respond to a request for comment about when they were aware of the issues involving Oh and ExxonMobil. Paul Weiss Chairman Brad Karp defended Oh in a statement: “Alex is a person of the utmost integrity and a consummate professional, with a strong ethical code.”

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