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Canadian who found Black Swan agrees to settle charges

A Canadian oceanographer who discovered what may be the richest shipwreck treasure in history has agreed to pay US$216,355 in an insider-trading settlement with U.S. government regulators.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced a civil settlement Thursday with Ernesto Tapanes, an oceanographic consultant after accusing him of illegally profiting from his find.

In March, he discovered a wreck, code-named Black Swan, for Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. as he surveyed off the coast of Gibraltar. The company revealed the Atlantic Ocean discovery of 500,000 colonial-era silver coins, estimated to be worth up to $500 million May 18.

In a civil suit, the SEC alleged in the weeks before the announcement, Tapanes used his inside knowledge of the find when he bought buy 42,000 shares of company stock. Odyssey Marine shares soared nearly 81 per cent on May 18 to $8.32 apiece. Tapanes then sold the stock, reaping a profit of $107,102.

A 39-year-old Canadian citizen, Tapanes is said to have homes in Ontario and Florida. He neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing in his SEC settlement.

Agency lawyers said he was not represented by a lawyer in the case and he requested his phone numbers not be made available to the news media. Efforts to obtain a phone number for him through a call to information were unsuccessful.

Tapanes is an independent consultant but has worked exclusively for Odyssey Marine since 2002, the SEC said. It is not known what his payout on the shipwreck find would be.

Greg Stemm, the chief executive of Tampa, Fla.-based Odyssey Marine, said he didn't know whether Tapanes would continue to work for the shipwreck excavation company.

"The board will look at it," he said, noting the SEC case did not involve the company.

In a statement, the company said: "Mr. Tapanes is one of many independent consultants to Odyssey Marine Exploration and is not a direct employee. The company is not aware of any SEC investigations into any of the company's employees, officers or directors and has no reason to expect any in the future."

Citing security concerns, the company refused to identify the wreck, its country of origin or even what kind of coins were found and taken back to Tampa.

The Spanish government, suspecting the wreck and treasure are connected to Spain, has filed claims against Odyssey Marine in federal court in Tampa. A federal judge ruled last week the company must turn over details of the wreck to the Spanish government but ordered the information be kept confidential.

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