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Pandora Papers reveal parallel nancial world for the wealthy
Arthur Cockfield

November 2021

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https://macdonaldlaurier.ca/files/pdf/202111_Pandora_Papers_Cockfield_COMMENTARY_FWeb.pdf?mc_cid=dd7df762ff&mc_eid=16c9c7ac47


Introduction1

The most recent tax haven data leak, the Pandora Papers, is aptly named. According to an Ancient Greek myth, Pandora was a mortal human who opened Pandora’s box – it was really just a jar – to inadvertently release sick- ness, death and other calamities into the world. In the case of the Pandora Papers, roughly 12 million pages were leaked from law rms based in tax havens such as Singapore and the British Virgin Islands.
The leaked documents reveal how tax havens visit various horrors on the world by privileging the interests of gangsters, millionaires and multina- tional corporations. There are roughly 30 countries in the world that are characterized as tax havens because their governments impose low or no taxes and often help non-resident investors obscure who owns what assets. Like the Panama Papers from 2016, the Pandora Papers reinforce the idea that this offshore world is rigged in favour of the wealthy and powerful, and against the interests of average citizens. The French words for tax havens are scaux paradis, a term that can be more directly translated as “ scal paradises.” Indeed, the offshore world provides a paradise for three main actors: criminals, millionaire and multinational corporations.

The author of this document has worked independently and is solely responsible for the views presented here. The opinions are not necessarily those of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, its Directors or Supporters.

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Wealthy criminals use the offshore world to anonymize their nancial mis-deeds and, in low-income countries, drain governments of valuable resources while citizens remain in dire circumstances (Zucman 2016). Millionaires use the offshore world to legally reduce their tax bills, exploiting loopholes that are not available to ordinary income taxpayers. The leaks also show how the wealthiest members of society – the top 0.01 percent – are more likely to engage in the crime of offshore tax evasion by hiding their fortunes in tax ha-ven bank accounts. Finally, multinational corporations set up related corpo- rations in tax havens to legally reduce global tax liabilities, providing higher returns for (generally) wealthier shareholders. In short, tax havens help rig the global nancial system in favour of the wealthy and powerful and against the interests of average income citizens.
With respect to inequality, the primary concern for many countries, including Canada, is that middle-class incomes have stagnated or grown very little over the last 40 years whereas incomes within the top 10 percent, and especially the top 1 percent, have increased (Piketty 2013). In some countries, grow- ing income inequality is encouraging unhealthy forms of populism, national- ism, nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment – all of which can lead to anti- democratic outcomes (Avi-Yonah 2000; Cock eld 2018). Income inequality is promoted by complex factors, including technological change, more foreign competition, and the COVID-19 pandemic. This commentary focuses on the offshore world’s role in enhancing the wealth of the very rich and/or the very corrupt, at the expense of average income citizens around the world. In ad- dition to the Pandora Papers, the analysis covers other tax haven data leaks that were ultimately obtained by the International Consortium of Investiga- tive Journalists, including Offshore Leaks of 2013, the Panama Papers of 2016, and the Paradise Papers of 2017.

Gangster paradise

With respect to the proceeds of crime, the Pandora Papers show how tax haven-based law rms and businesses help crooks engage in offshore tax eva- sion and international money laundering (roughly US$2.5 trillion in illegal earnings is laundered around the world each year). Criminal enterprises set up offshore corporations and other business entities to mask the illicit pro- ceeds from crimes such as illegal drug sales. While Ottawa routinely convicts small time tax cheats, the Canadian government very rarely convicts wealthy nancial crooks for crimes such as offshore tax evasion (Cock eld 2017a; Chown 2018).

Canadian criminals also use the offshore world at a signicant cost to Canadian society. Like other large tax haven data leaks, the Pandora Papers revealed ties between tax havens and alleged Canadian criminals engaged in activities such as drug trafficking, money laundering and selling illegal weapons via a dark web marketplace (Dubinsky and ICIJ 2021; Cock eld 2016).
Pandora Papers reveal parallel financial world for the wealthy.

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The Canadian government estimates that offshore tax evasion leads to annual revenue losses of up to $3 billion (Canada Revenue Agency 2018; Finance Committee 2013; Finance Committee 2016). This estimate relied on the tra- ditional methodologies by using statistics such as cross-border investment data from the International Bank of Settlements to indirectly gauge what sort of hidden criminal activity is taking place in tax havens. As explored in the next section, evidence from real live taxpayers provided by the leaks suggest the amount of crime may be much higher in relatively wealthy liberal democ- racies like Canada.
Yet the greatest damage results from wealthy criminals in low-income countries draining governments of valuable resources while citizens remain in dire circumstances. In some countries, political and business elites sap the scal coffers of their nations by hiding their booty in tax haven bank accounts while citizens remain with fewer resources. While the matter is often discussed in terms of its human rights implications, capital out ows by high-level politi- cians or other well-connected individuals have a major deleterious impact on both income and wealth inequality.
Foreign countries provide aid, and the monies are seized by corrupt elites and then hidden offshore.

Revelations in tax haven data leaks, including the Pandora Papers, support prior efforts to empirically assess capital ows out of low-income countries. For instance, a study on capital ight from sub-Saharan African countries con- cludes that a “narrow, relatively wealthy stratum” among the countries stud- ied maintained assets in foreign countries that exceeded the national public debts of their own countries (Boyce and Ndikumana 2008: see also Chris- tensen 2009). For some African countries, wealthy elites shift more monies to offshore tax havens than the total foreign aid poured into the continent. In many cases, the situation resembles a revolving door: foreign countries provide aid, and the monies are seized by corrupt elites and then hidden offshore.

The most glaring example in the world today is the plight of South Sudan where a civil war has raged for years (Sentry 2016; Cock eld 2017b). During the time of the con ict, high-level government of cials and war pro teers seized billions of dollars in foreign aid and government resources, then hid these monies in tax haven corporations that in turn purchased assets such as Swiss villas. At the same time, according to the United Nations (2021), roughly seven out of 10 million citizens are at risk of starvation.


A 2020 tax haven data leak known as Luanda Leaks also showed how Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the Angola’s former president and reportedly Africa’s wealthiest woman, stole billions in government resources. She then trans- ferred the ill-gotten monies to tax havens, depriving oil- and diamond-rich Angola of valuable resources and leaving its citizens among the poorest in the world (Freedberg et al. 2020). Documents connect Ms. dos Santos or her husband to a network of more than 400 companies and subsidiaries in 41 countries, including 94 companies that were set up in tax havens such as Malta, Mauritius and Hong Kong. Once the authorities began an investigation, Ms. dos Santos absconded to Dubai, another tax haven. The dos Santos saga provides a grim example of illicit cross-border nancial ows to tax haven- based entities (where the funds are normally in turn invested in nancially- stable OECD countries, for example, by purchasing condominiums in Miami or Vancouver).
The more recent Pandora Papers “show 35 current or former world leaders and more than 300 other public of cials around the globe who have held assets in or through tax havens” (Dubinsky and ICIJ 2021). For instance, the leak revealed the King of Jordan shifted over US$100 million to tax haven companies that in turn own properties around the world, including three homes in Malibu worth roughly US$70 million – at the same time as his coun- try was receiving foreign aid from Canada and elsewhere (Fitzgibbon 2021). With respect to other Middle Eastern countries, the Panama Papers also un- covered how former heads of state, including from Kuwait, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, use tax haven entities like corporations to move money off- shore. After surveying the wealth held by these individuals, the two German journalists who rst received the Panama Papers note, “They enjoy unimagi- nable luxury while at least part of the population is living a hand-to-mouth existence” (Obermayer and Obermaier 2016, 117-118).
In summary, the leaks provide ongoing real-life examples of the ways that tax havens help criminals hide their activities, which can greatly enhance their after-tax income. For some low-income countries, these criminal acts drive income and wealth inequality between corrupt elites and citizens who may be left with very few resources to survive.


The offshore world is also a paradise for millionaires, including a group of in- dividuals who are referred to, in tax industry jargon, as ‘ultra-high net worth individuals’ – typically those who own US$50 million or more in assets. The number of these wealthy individuals has grown by 500 percent around the world in the last 20 years, at the same time the middle-class in many nations has seen shrinking family incomes: even during the pandemic, this group grew by over 23 percent in one year (Credit Suisse Research Institute 2021). The rise of this group of extraordinary well-to-doers – the top 0.01 percent wealthiest individuals who collectively now own more than 50 percent of the world’s assets – was facilitated by the offshore tax-haven world.



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Tax havens allow millionaires to engage in legal tax planning to reduce bills in ways that cannot be accessed by ordinary citizens. The Pandora Papers shows how tax havens help this wealthy group, including Canadians such as Jacques Villeneuve and Elvis Stojko legally avoid paying taxes by, for instance, parking monies in offshore trusts based in tax havens (CBC News 2021).
The Pandora Papers also revealed that Cherie Blair, wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, used a tax haven corporation to purchase a London building that was partially owned by the family of a Bahraini minister. By pur- chasing the shares of the tax haven corporation, instead of buying the asset directly, Ms. Blair reportedly saved US$422,000 in taxes on the sale (Dubinsky and ICIJ 2021). The revelation is problematic because Mr. Blair railed against the evils of tax havens during his time as Prime Minister.2
The 2017 Paradise Papers similarly revealed a tax perk available to the very wealthy (Chitum and Garside 2017). Lewis Hamilton, a British Formula One racing star, purchased a jet for US$27 million – a candy-apple-red Bombar- dier Challenger 605 with Armani curtains. He owed US$5.2 million in sales taxes (called value-added taxes in Europe and elsewhere). Unlike common consumer purchases, the wealthy can avoid paying these sales taxes on their jets entirely. Mr. Hamilton’s jet was brie y parked (and registered) in the Isle of Man, a tax haven. As a result, his US$5.2 million tax liability was reduced to $0.

Tax haven data leaks have revealed that offshore tax evasion may be more extensive than previously thought.
The most well-known recent controversy in Canada surrounding the wealthy and offshore planning is the KPMG/Isle of Man saga, in which wealthy Ca- nadian clients to KPMG paid no income taxes on their wealth that they had ‘gifted’ to an offshore corporation based in the Isle of Man. As a result of the controversy, the Canadian government – through the Finance Committee’s Standing Committee – held hearings to investigate this matter. I was one of the witnesses who testi ed before the Standing Committee (Finance Com- mittee 2016; Cock eld 2017a). The tax plan, which was supported by legal opinions from a Canadian and Isle of Man tax lawyer, involved transferring Canadian cash to the offshore corporation. However, because the monies were allegedly gifted, they were subject to the Isle of Man’s zero tax rules. At this writing, audits and litigation remain underway (Cashore 2021).

Canadians using the offshore world to save taxes is not a new phenomenon. It stretches back to the 1930s to Canadians like Sir Harry Oakes, the founder of the Kirkland Lake gold mines, who took his fortune and moved to Nas- sau, the Bahamas – where he was famously murdered in 1943.

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Another early example involves Percy Walker Thomson, a wealthy Canadian who tried un- successfully, in a case that wound its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, to rely on his Bermuda citizenship ties to dodge Canadian taxes (the effort was characterized as “pure farce” by Justice Kurwin) (Cock eld, O’Brien and Brown 2020).
More surprisingly, tax haven data leaks have revealed that offshore tax evasion may be more extensive than previously thought. Unlike legal tax avoidance, tax evasion is a criminal offence that usually involves a taxpayer purposefully hiding income or assets from tax authorities. Prior to the data leaks, the off- shore world was shrouded in secrecy. Now equipped with real-world data from the leaks, some researchers are estimating much higher revenue losses from offshore tax evasion.
In one study, researchers worked with tax authorities from Denmark, Swe- den, and Norway to match the secret bank accounts revealed in tax haven data leaks to actual taxpayers (Alstadsæter et al. 2017). After a lengthy inves- tigation, the Danish and Norwegian tax authorities concluded that 90 to 95 percent of taxpayers in the study had engaged in the crime of offshore tax evasion. On average the ultra-high net worth Scandinavians hid 25 percent of their overall wealth in tax havens. The study also found that, in many cases, these wealthy members of society were the real problem: the top 0.01 percent (in this case, individuals with US$45 million and over in wealth) was 13 times more likely to hide assets in HSBC Switzerland than the bottom half of the top 1 percent (individuals with US$2-3 million in wealth). In other words, ultra- high net worth taxpayers committed criminal tax evasion at a much higher rate than the merely rich.

The study is surprising because prior research has shown Scandinavian coun- tries have some of the highest taxpayer compliance rates in the world. If crimi- nal tax evasion is so prevalent among ultra-high net worth Scandinavian indi- viduals, it could be worse in other countries.
These ndings are consistent with a 2018 study that reviewed taxpayer be- haviour in Colombia and found that the wealthiest 0.01 percent are 24 times more likely to be named in the Panama Papers than the wealthiest 5 percent (Londoño-Vélez and Ávila-Mahecha 2018). Two- fths of the top 0.01 percent of income earners disclosed illegal offshore assets after a voluntary disclosure program was announced, with a 900 percent increase in such disclosures after the release of the Panama Papers. Again, the richest of the rich were far more likely to stash their monies offshore than other well-off taxpayers.

The limited social science analysis to date suggests that many of the wealthiest members of society have illegally hidden a portion of their fortunes offshore where it grew tax-free, potentially for generations. The existence of two de facto nancial systems – a domestic system for average taxpayers and a global, offshore system for wealthy taxpayers – exacerbates income inequality.

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Multinational paradise
In addition to gangsters and millionaires, the offshore world is a paradise for multinational rms to legally avoid an estimated US$240 billion in taxes per year (OECD 2013; Kleinbard 2011). This section discusses how governments exacerbate income inequality by allowing companies to take advantage of tax havens.

By way of background, most countries, including Canada, give tax breaks to companies if they base a related corporation in a tax haven to “go global.” These governments pursue national interest objectives ostensibly to support companies in their efforts to compete in a global market-place (Christians 2007). To take one example: since the 1970s, due to a quirk in the Income Tax Act, Canadian businesses can use a tax haven ‘ nancing af liate’ to give a ‘double dip’ loan that allows the businesses to, effectively, get two interest deductions for one loan payment (the federal government engaged in inter- national tax reform in 2008 and decided to keep the tax break) (Cock eld 2008).

And Canada is not alone. Particularly since the 1980s, most governments have been engaged in a ‘race to the bottom’ as they generally reduced corporate income tax rates and gave other forms of tax relief to multinational rms (Alt- shuler and Grubert 2005).
International tax rules that favour corporations encourage three main in- come inequality outcomes (Cock eld 2007, 206-213). First, the race to the bottom redistributes government tax burdens away from mobile capital to be focused more on immobile workers, leading to overall less after-tax income for labourers. Second, the reduced taxation on multinational rms enhances their after-tax pro ts, leading to a greater return for shareholders. Because shareholders tend to have higher incomes, the use of tax havens enhances the income and wealth of these high-income incomes while low-and-middle- income taxpayers generally cannot avail themselves of such bene ts.3 Third, the inability to effectively tax multinational rms leads to revenue losses and the corresponding reduction in government services hits middle-and-low-in- come earners the most as they lose out on government services they would otherwise enjoy.

Governments were generally content to let this course of events continue until the 2008 global nancial crisis, which left many governments in greater need for tax revenues from any possible sources. In 2013, the OECD and the G20 began the most ambitious international tax reform effort in history called BEPS (tax ‘base erosion and pro t shifting’), which essentially means aggres- sive international tax planning (OECD 2013).
The 2017 Paradise Papers showed how, four years after the BEPS process was initiated, multinational rms continued to engage in aggressive international tax planning (ICIJ 2017).

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This leak revealed how the ownership of all-important intangible assets – such as the rights to Nike’s Swoosh trademark, Uber’s taxi-hailing app, and medical patents covering such treatment options as Bo- tox – could all be traced to a ve-story of ce building in Bermuda occupied by Appleby, a law rm, and Estera, an offshore nancial service provider. Simi- larly, the ownership of Facebook’s user database and rights to use its platform technology was held by companies in a small of ce building, used by Appleby and Estera, on Grand Cayman, a Caribbean tax haven. In other words, the le- gal ownership of these intangible assets was traced to shell corporations that had registered addresses in tax havens.
Multinational rms sometimes create tax plans that base or transfer intangible assets such as databases, copyrights or patents within or to an offshore corpo- ration so that cross-border royalties will be paid to the tax haven-based cor- poration and taxed at the tax haven’s income tax rate, which is normally zero (Cock eld and Kerzner 2018, 141-147). These intangible assets are mobile in the sense their ownership can be shifted ‘on paper’ to tax havens where they attract low or nil taxation – while still complying with all tax laws.

Legal tax avoidance plans ... reduce tax revenues and make it harder for the government to fund public goods.
The Paradise Papers also revealed how Apple aggressively sought out new offshore tax savings after suffering bad media about prior tax plans. In light of negative media surrounding a global tax avoidance scheme called a ‘Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich,’ Apple restructured by shifting two Irish corpo- rations to Jersey, a tax haven located off the coast of Great Britain (Drucker and Bowers 2017). As a result of these moves, Apple managed to once again greatly reduce its global tax liability.

The problem is that legal tax avoidance plans, which are widely-deployed by the Canadian business community, reduce tax revenues and make it harder for the government to fund public goods. In recent high pro le cases in- volving taxpayers like Cameco and Loblaws, the government unsuccessfully challenged aggressive tax planning that saved billions of dollars in taxes (Li and Cock eld 2018). Legislative reform may be needed to resolve the issue, otherwise Canadian multinational corporations will continue to engage in aggressive international tax planning where the main bene ciaries are the corporations’ shareholders. The main losers are low- and average-income Ca- nadians who lose out on government services or who potentially pay higher taxes down the road to make up for the revenue shortfall.
Unhelpfully, countries like Canada and the United States also have ‘onshore’ laws that provide tax haven-like breaks to taxpayers by allowing them to hide their investments from authorities (Syed 2018; Tax Justice Network 2020).
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These onshore rules also need to be reformed so that tax and law enforce- ment authorities can identify the human investor behind the cross-border scheme.
Legal and policy responses
This section brie y addresses the main Canadian and global responses to challenges presented by tax havens.
First, the federal government has budgeted over $1 billion in recent budgets to help the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) enforce its tax laws surrounding offshore tax evasion and aggressive international tax planning. Canada, unfor- tunately, has a lousy record with respect to prosecuting offshore tax cheats, to put it mildly (Chown 2016; Chodikoff 2017). In June 2020, the CRA acknowl- edged that no Canadian taxpayers identi ed in the Panama Papers of 2016 have been prosecuted for offshore tax evasion or any other crime. Yet these prosecutions are needed to promote morale among most taxpayers who, as a result of ongoing tax haven data leaks, increasingly understand that there are two parallel global nancial systems: one for the haves and one for the have nots. Over time, the erosion in taxpayer morale may lead to a reduction in tax compliance and increasing revenue losses.
Second, governments around the world are trying to make the global tax system more visible or ‘transparent’ to government of cials and members of the public (Kerzner and Chodikoff 2016; McCracken 2010). With respect to individuals engaged in offshore tax evasion, Canada has implemented rules to discern who owns offshore bank accounts via a global agreement called the Common Reporting Standard (CRS). Under the CRS, Canada and other participating governments recently began exchanging informing concerning each others’ non-resident bank account owners (more technically, the ‘bene- cial owners’ of these accounts) (Cock eld 2017b). The 2021 federal budget allocated $2.1 million over two years to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada for the implementation of a publicly accessible corpo- rate bene cial ownership registry by 2025.
With respect to transparency measures and multinational corporations, Can- ada has signed onto a global agreement called Country by Country Report- ing (CbCR). As a result, multinational rms based in Canada with over €750 million in annual global sales will now have to disclose all tax and similar payments to foreign governments. Previously, Canadian companies gener- ally only disclosed their global income without stating the amount of foreign taxes paid to each country. CbCR will allow the CRA to better assess the risk of whether a corporate taxpayer is engaged in aggressive tax avoidance that does not comply with tax laws.
Third, in 2021, Canada joined with over 130 other countries to sign two im-
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portant global tax agreements (Cock eld 2021a; Cock eld 2021b). The rst one involves an agreement for governments to implement a minimum cor- porate income tax rate of 15 percent on foreign pro ts. The purpose of this agreement is to inhibit the ability of multinational rms to shift pro ts to tax havens where these pro ts are subjected to low or nil taxes.
The second global agreement targets large technology rms with global annu- al sales of over €750 million. These large rms will be assessed a new tax by market countries where consumers are based even if the rm does not main- tain a physical presence within the market country (Cock eld 2006; Cock eld 2020; Cock eld, Hellerstein and Lamensch 2020). Accordingly, Canada will be able to tax companies such as Google, Facebook and Net ix – large tech- nology companies that enjoy signi cant revenues attributable to purchases by Canadian consumers but that have traditionally avoided paying Canadian income taxes because they do not need to set up shop in Canada.
Both of these global agreements may falter if governments cannot agree on detailed rules to implement the framework. To the extent that Canada and other governments implement the agreements, it should help Canada tax multinational rms at higher levels, which in turn might reduce income in- equality encouraged by the use of tax havens. If the agreements are not ulti- mately implemented, the Canadian government has indicated it will legislate a digital services tax to tax foreign tech giants.
Conclusion: The Road Ahead
The Pandora Papers contained revelations that are consistent with prior tax haven data leaks. Over time a clearer picture has emerged whereby the off- shore world privileges three main actors: criminals, millionaires and multina- tional corporations.
Governments presumably did not purposefully create a paradise for crimi- nals and hence laws and policies for decades have tried to inhibit criminal behaviour although with little effect. Similarly, governments normally do not promote the offence of offshore tax evasion. Catching these crooks takes political commitment, resources and government willingness to be held ac- countable for outcomes.
Shutting down the unintended tax haven breaks for individuals who engage in legal tax planning would be more straight-forward. Under the general approach, a Canadian resident taxpayer should pay the same tax burden on their sources of domestic income and foreign income. The problem is that new tax products and avoidance strategies are continually developed by pro- moters and offered to high-net-worth taxpayers. When the advisor advice is negligent or reckless, the government should pursue sanctions against the advisors, not the taxpayers who relied on the professional advice. Pursuing
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Pandora Papers reveal parallel nancial world for the wealthy
advisors would also act as a deterrent to future efforts for promoters to de- velop new tax plans involving tax havens – while ostensibly complying with all relevant tax laws.
Cutting back on tax breaks for multinational rms based in Canada would be easier to pull off. For example, to eliminate double dip nancing structures – that provide two interest deductions for one loan and thereby signi cantly reduce global tax liabilities – the government would need to revise one sec- tion of the Income Tax Act (section 95(2)(a)). Yet successive Canadian admin- istrations have for decades maintained these tax breaks largely as a result of industry lobbying. Any reforms in this direction would thus have to account for industry concerns surrounding promoting international competitiveness.
The main reason to reform the system is that tax haven breaks are privileg- ing the interests of wealthier Canadians (not to mention outright crooks) while average income citizens are left out in the cold. In an era where gov- ernments are increasingly worried about the anti-democratic costs associated with growing income inequality, now is the time to take action.
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Pandora Papers reveal parallel nancial world for the wealthy
About the author
Arthur Cock eld is a Professor and Associate Dean (Academic) with Queen’s University Faculty of Law. He is a member of the Offshore Compliance Advisory Committee, a federal government committee formed to evaluate Canada’s ties to the offshore world.
Prior to joining Queen’s, Cock eld worked as an articling student and associate lawyer for Goodmans LLP in Toronto. He has worked at the University of West Indies in Barbados and at U.S. law schools, most recently as a Fulbright Visiting Chair in Policy Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Most of Professor Cock eld’s publications focus on tax law. Awards include the Douglas J. Sherbaniuk Distinguished Writing Award from the Canadian Tax Foundation, and a number of fellowships and external research grants for his research.
For most of his courses, he has developed a narrative law teaching method that takes a lawyer/ protagonist through a series of problems, and has published related works of ction.
Professor Cock eld has served as a legal and policy consultant to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations, the Department of Justice, the Department of Finance, the Advisory Panel on Canada’s System of International Taxation, the National Judicial Institute, the Of ce of the Auditor General of Canada and the Of ce of the Privacy Commissioner.
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Londoño-Vélez, Juliana and Javier Ávila-Mahecha. 2018. Can Wealth Taxation Work in Developing Countries? Quasi-Experimental Evidence from Colom- bia 4. Working Paper No. 482.
McCracken, Sara. 2002. “Going, Going, Gone... Global: A Canadian Perspec- tive on International Tax Administration Issues in the Exchange-of-Informa- tion Age.” Canadian Tax Journal, 50: 1869-1912.
Obermayer, Bastian and Frederik Obermaier. 2016. The Panama Papers: Breaking the Story of How the Rich and Powerful Hide Their Money. One World Publications.
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 2013. Addressing Base Erosion and Pro t Shifting. OECD.
Piketty, Thomas. 2013. Capital in the 21st century. Harvard University Press.
Pandora Papers reveal parallel nancial world for the wealthy
COMMENTARY
16
Pandora Papers reveal parallel nancial world for the wealthy
Credit Suisse Research Institute. 2021. Global Wealth Report 2021. Credit Suisse Research Institute, June.
Sentry. 2016. War Crimes Shouldn’t Pay: Stopping the Looting and Destruc- tion in South Sudan. Sentry, September.
Syed, Fatime. 2018. “Canada’s nancial system is less transparent than Rus- sia’s, report says.” Toronto Star, January 30. Available at https://www.thestar. com/news/gta/2018/01/29/canadas- nancial-system-is-less-transparent-than- russias-report-says.html.
Tax Justice Network. 2020. Financial Secrecy Index 2020 Methodology. Tax Justice Network. Available at http://www. nancialsecrecyindex.com/PDF/FSI- Methodology.pdf.
United Nations. 2021. “South Sudanese ‘one step away from famine’, as UN launches humanitarian response plan.” UN News, March 16. Available at https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/03/1087492.
Zucman, Gabriel. 2015. The hidden wealth of nations: The scourge of tax havens. University of Chicago Press.
Endnotes
1 2 3
A related forthcoming article on “Secrets of the Panama Papers” will be published by the Columbia Tax Journal in 2021.
Ms. Blair has indicated that the property was subsequently transferred into her direct ownership to comply with all UK laws.
The matter is complicated by the fact that tax burden on corporations may in fact be passed on to the company’s workers, consumers or other stakeholders.
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Re: Accountants now “Breaking Bad”, Creating Synthetic Numbe

Postby admin » Wed Oct 27, 2021 9:23 am

House Hearing: PricewaterhouseCoopers Signed Off on Evergrande’s Books, Which Counted “Unbuilt and Unsold Properties” as Assets

Screen Shot 2021-10-27 at 10.22.36 AM.png


Pam Martens and Russ Martens: October 27, 2021

In 2012, short seller Citron Research released a 57-page report alleging fraudulent accounting at China Evergrande Group, the now teetering Chinese property development conglomerate that is causing severe anxiety in global markets. After spelling out six specific forms of accounting fraud that it believed to be taking place, the Citron report noted the following: “Meanwhile, Evergrande’s auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers (Hong Kong office) has continued to provide an unqualified opinion.”

The author of the Citron report, Andrew Left, received a 5-year trading ban in Hong Kong by the Hong Kong Market Misconduct Tribunal over what it alleged was a false report.

On November 30, 2016, GMT Research, an accounting research firm that focuses on Asia, released a report titled: “China Evergrande: Auditors Asleep.” The report found that Evergrande had overcapitalized interest and classified its own commercial premises as an investment property.

Yesterday, those previous charges of accounting irregularities were given new meaning when a specialist from the Congressional Research Service, the research arm of Congress, testified before a House hearing and leveled her own charges.

The hearing was conducted by the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship, and Capital Markets. It was titled: “Taking Stock of China, Inc.: Examining Risks to Investors and the U.S. Posed by Foreign Issuers in U.S. Markets.”

Karen Sutter, a Specialist in Asian Trade and Finance at the Congressional Research Service, told Subcommittee members the following about Evergrande’s accounting:

“Counting unbuilt and unsold properties and interest payments as assets. About 60% of the firm’s assets are unbuilt and unsold properties, and the firm counts loan interest payments as assets. This inflates the firm’s position and increases risks if property values fall…

“Using previously-financed deals as collateral for new loans. This practice allowed the firm to accumulate debt and become leveraged…

“Investing in unrelated sectors beyond the core business. Some Chinese firms use insurance, trust, and wealth management businesses to earn higher returns and invest offshore. The Shenzhen government is investigating Evergrande’s insurance business.

“Use of complex offshore structures tied to the CEO. Evergrande uses overlapping contracts and shareholding to facilitate financial flows that make it difficult to assess liabilities. The CEO and his family reportedly hold a large share of the firm’s offshore debt.”

A report released five days before the hearing by the Congressional Research Service, assessed Evergrande’s debt levels and ability to repay creditors as follows:

“Evergrande owes about $305 billion in debt (2% of China’s GDP). The firm is obligated to repay $124 billion this year—including $19.3 billion in bonds—but may only have 10% of this amount in cash on hand. The firm is said to owe money to 171 domestic banks and 121 financial firms. Off-book liabilities have not been disclosed. As China’s largest issuer of high-yield dollar denominated debt, Evergrande was an attractive investment, despite known risks, because it paid annual interest rates of 7.5% to 14%.”

The Congressional Research Service report noted that the Evergrande situation presents critical questions for Congress, including: “Evergrande’s situation raises questions about the full scope of its liabilities and the potential direct and indirect exposure for U.S. and other firms. The role of U.S. and other underwriters and auditors of Chinese firms also raises questions about whether risks are sufficiently assessed and disclosed to investors.”

Since Evergrande was first listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2009, major Wall Street firms have been among its stock underwriters, including: Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and UBS. As recently as last October, Credit Suisse, Bank of America, Huatai International and UBS arranged a secondary share offering for Evergrande. Investors will certainly be questioning the caliber of due diligence that was done by the underwriters and their legal counsel.

For almost two decades, China has stonewalled U.S. regulators over access to the work papers of auditors of publicly traded companies that are based in China but listed on U.S. stock exchanges. China has taken the position that the audit work papers hold state secrets and it prohibits audit firms from releasing the documents directly to U.S. regulators.

This past December, Congress finally addressed this critical problem. Both houses of Congress unanimously passed legislation called the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act. The legislation requires that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) identify companies that are listed in the U.S. which the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) cannot “inspect or investigate completely because of a position taken by an authority in the foreign jurisdiction.”

The legislation also requires the listed companies to provide documentation showing that they are not owned or controlled by a governmental entity. It also mandates that the SEC prohibit the trading of the company’s stock in the U.S. if its audits cannot be inspected for three consecutive years.

Evergrande’s stock trades in Hong Kong and has lost 84 percent of its value since February. As of early this morning, its bonds are trading at 20 to 30 cents on the dollar.

Related Article:

U.S. Mega Banks Were Sitting on $6.56 Billion of Chinese Education Stocks that China Just Eviscerated

https://wallstreetonparade.com/2021/10/house-hearing-pricewaterhousecoopers-signed-off-on-evergrandes-books-which-counted-unbuilt-and-unsold-properties-as-assets/
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Re: Accountants now “Breaking Bad”, Creating Synthetic Numbe

Postby admin » Sat Jun 05, 2021 1:50 pm

https://ca.finance.yahoo.com/news/u-sec ... 32709.html

ReutersReuters
U.S. SEC ousts head of accounting watchdog, puts rest of board on notice
Chris Prentice and Katanga Johnson
Fri, June 4, 2021, 4:10 PM·2 min read

Screen Shot 2021-06-05 at 2.51.18 PM.png


FILE PHOTO: The seal of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is seen at their headquarters in Washington, D.C.
By Chris Prentice and Katanga Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Friday said it had removed the head of the oversight board that sets standards for audits of public companies and planned to replace the rest of the board in due course.

The SEC said in a statement that it had voted to remove William Duhnke III as chair of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), a role he has held since January 2018, effective Friday. The other four members of the board will stay on, but the SEC -- which oversees the accounting watchdog -- is soliciting resumes for those roles.

Duhnke's ouster is a warning shot by the new SEC chair Gary Gensler, who took the helm at the markets regulator in April. The PCAOB, which was created by the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act following major accounting scandals, has long been criticized by Democrats for being toothless.

The PCAOB has also come under criticism by hawks who wanted it to take a tougher stance on Chinese auditors of U.S.-listed Chinese companies which have generally evaded U.S. oversight.

"The PCAOB has an opportunity to live up to Congress’s vision in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act," Gensler said in the statement.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and Independent Senator Bernie Sanders last month pressed the SEC to immediately replace the board, which they said has fallen down on its job of overseeing audit firms meant to keep publicly-traded companies in check.

While the SEC did not disclose the breakdown of the vote, Hester Peirce and Elad Roisman, the Republican members of the five-person commission, said in a statement that Duhnke's ousting established a "troubling precedent."

Former SEC chair Jay Clayton overhauled the PCAOB in 2017, appointing five new members including Duhnke, after the board's staff leaked confidential information to one of the audit firms it oversees.

Duane DesParte, who also joined the board in 2018, will serve as acting chair, the SEC said.

(Reporting by Chris Prentice and Katanga Johnson; Editing by Leslie Adler, Michelle Price and Sonya Hepinstall)
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Re: Accountants now “Breaking Bad”, Creating Synthetic Numbe

Postby admin » Thu Jul 30, 2020 6:07 pm

https://www.epsilontheory.com/thats-the ... dium=Email
Today. regional and super-regional banks are telling you that they are very sensitive to changes in the commercial real estate market. So sensitive that the CARES Act – you know, the one that was designed to help families and mom and pop small businesses? – includes a provision to allow them to suspend GAAP accounting and treat troubled debt as deferred, with much more favorable capital treatment.


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Thirteen-year-olds are the meanest people in the world. They terrify me to this day. If I’m on the street on like a Friday at 3PM and I see a group of eighth graders on one side of the street, I will cross to the other side of the street. Because eighth graders will make fun of you, but in an accurate way.

They will get to the thing that you don’t like about you. They don’t even need to look at you for long. They’ll just be like, “Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha! Hey, look at that high-waisted man, he got feminine hips!”

And I’m like, “NO! That’s the thing I’m sensitive about!”

Yesterday I read a social media post from Dana Carvey, who played a version of the recently departed Regis Philbin on SNL in the early 90s. Darrell Hammond did a later version that – like many of his impressions – relied a bit more on physical resemblance. Jimmy Fallon once did a version in 2011 that – like all of his impressions – relied more on a late-Millennial audience’s willingness to see his constant breaking as endearing instead of obnoxious. For my money, Carvey’s impression is still the standard.

In later conversations between Dana and Regis, they discussed the “Regis persona” that Philbin had created. He described it as an “exaggerated version of himself.” That made Carvey’s impression an exaggerated version of an exaggerated version of Regis.

When the 2016 Disney film Moana was being cast, the composer of some of its original songs – Lin-Manuel Miranda, of Hamilton fame – sent a draft score and demo tape to the actor who would ultimately voice the senicidal giant crab Tamatoa. Jemaine Clement, that New Zealand actor, later recounted that the demo was a recording of Lin-Manuel doing an impression of Jemaine’s impression of David Bowie. If you listen to the song Shiny from the film, you are listening to Jemaine Clement doing Lin-Manuel doing Jemaine Clement doing David Bowie.

When it comes to the stories we hear and tell, this kind of thing isn’t uncommon.

Sure, sometimes the extremes of what everyone knows everyone knows about a person or thing can be unfair and counterproductive. After all, with as many pixels as we light up on your machines with warnings about narrative abstractions, you won’t find us arguing in favor of applying our exaggerations as proxies. You can’t boil down David Bowie to a singing style in which you create an abnormally large cavity in the central sound-shaping part of your mouth to lengthen every vowel and a staccato approach to every consonant and plosive. You can’t boil down Regis Philbin to going halfway on a Kermit the Frog impression.

Extremes can be misleading.

Extremes can also be revealing. You learn a lot when you learn what thing a person or institution is sensitive about.

The extremes of a global pandemic have revealed a lot about what our political and corporate leaders and institutions are sensitive about.

For months, the Federal Reserve and White House have told anyone paying even the remotest attention that they were very sensitive to the price levels of risky assets, even at the risk of a variety of other considerations that they are theoretically or statutorily required to be sensitive to. Not that any of this is new, of course, but sometimes it’s good to appreciate the small things, like not having to update your priors for the better part of a decade or so.

Today. regional and super-regional banks are telling you that they are very sensitive to changes in the commercial real estate market. So sensitive that the CARES Act – you know, the one that was designed to help families and mom and pop small businesses? – includes a provision to allow them to suspend GAAP accounting and treat troubled debt as deferred, with much more favorable capital treatment. We’ve written more about this for our ET Pro subscribers, and will have a lot more to say about it.

Regulators and policymakers have told you that they are very sensitive to permitting the loss of equity value in certain industries and utterly indifferent to it in others. Remember when certain corners of the investment community told us that it was unfair and unjust that owners of airline stocks might permanently lose value because of government-instituted lockdowns, and then when those restrictions largely relaxed we were still operating at just a little over a 20% of normal capacity?

Even now, after most COVID-19-related fears have settled into the familiar ennui of 2020, investors are telling you that they are still very sensitive to the perception of a company’s ability to survive and thrive in an extended stay-at-home world. So sensitive, in fact, that the manifestation of beta – systematic risk – today looks more like beta exposure to that ability than to a traditionally accepted expression of market risk. It is a fascinating phenomenon that Arik Ben Dor’s quant equity research team at Barclays wrote about yesterday. We don’t have permission to post it here, but institutional investors should reach out to your Barclays rep and ask for “Betas Reshaped: The COVID-19 Effect”.

Some of the lessons have been business lessons, too. Asset managers told you they were very economically sensitive to loss in management fee revenue associated with even brief declines in risky asset prices. Hedge fund managers told you with their pricing that they are very sensitive to all of your moves to allocate away toward other alternative investment vehicles.

It has been a busy few months.

In the end, COVID-19 too, shall pass. Like all extremes, treating all of this as a proxy for the world we will live in for the rest of our lives will be misleading. Yes, some things we thought could never change will be permanently different. And some things which we thought might be permanent will be only temporary. But in the midst of that, a lot of the institutions that should matter to you as an investor and citizen told you what they were sensitive about.

As the financial world emerges from one of the strangest periods in most of our careers, we cannot forget those lessons.
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Re: Accountants now “Breaking Bad”, Creating Synthetic Numbe

Postby admin » Fri Feb 07, 2020 9:03 pm

Oh, those bankruptcy trustees, closely related to accounting firms at times, and seen so often to be involved in finding secret connections, and hidden ways to profit from some rather large financial failures:

For example, see the following:

Nortel, Sears Canada, . . .

Every exempt market real estate investment failure in Canada, seems to go through the same judge (in Calgary cases) and is assigned to the same trustee, and the same financial magic seems to drain the company and then pass it to the same folks at pennies on the dollar....(at least that is the story I hear in many such cases)


From: "Sikka, Prem" <prems@essex.ac.uk>
Date: February 7, 2020 at 5:34:37 PM EST
To: "Sikka, Prem" <prems@essex.ac.uk>

Subject: Regulatory Corruption
Dear All,

This article may interest you

“The insolvency regulator is in bed with the industry”;

https://leftfootforward.org/2020/02/pro ... -industry/

As always there is more on the AABA website (http://www.aabaglobal.org )

Regards

Prem Sikka

Twitter: https://twitter.com/premnsikka

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/prem.sikka.1

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/premsikka/

AABA Website: http://www.aabaglobal.org

Screen Shot 2020-02-07 at 9.02.53 PM.png

Prof Prem Sikka: The insolvency regulator is in bed with the industry
Prem Sikka
4 February, 2020 (4 days ago)
Workers and taxpayer lose out as usual.

For decades, accounting firms have been delivering dud audits, but have collected millions of pounds in fees.

In pursuit of fees they have shown little respect for the rules. Ineffective regulators levy puny fines, which have become just another cost of doing business and have made little, if any, difference to the quality of audits.

The same woes have long been evident in the insolvency industry, another state guaranteed market reserved for lawyers and accountants belonging to a select few accountancy trade associations.

The latest evidence comes from Deloitte’s handling of the insolvency of Comet, a major UK electrical goods chain.

Last week Deloitte were fined £925,000 and two of its former partners – the administrators responsible for winding down Comet – were fined £50,000 and £25,000 by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England & Wales (ICAEW) for failures of independence.

The background is that after a series of losses Comet entered administration. Three Deloitte partners were appointed administrators on 2 November 2012.

Comet owed £232m to its unsecured supply chain creditors who recovered little from the insolvency. As administrators, Deloitte were required by law to hold consultations with 7,000 employees before any redundancies, but did not do so.

An employment tribunal ruled against Deloitte and enabled employees to claim compensations for unfair dismissal.

However, as Comet was bankrupt, redundancy payment of some £26m were met by taxpayers. HMRC failed to collect another £26.2m in VAT, PAYE and National Insurance as it is an unsecured creditor.

Deloitte partners subsequently became joint liquidators. In the period to 2019, the firm is estimated to have collected over £15m in administration and liquidation fees.

Some of its partners were charged out at up to £1,160 per hour. Some of the cheapest labour was charged out at the rate of up to £370 per hour.

Deloitte made another £1.4m from advising Opcapita, the backer of Hailey Acquisitions, Comet’s parent company, before the chain entered administration.

Hailey Acquisitions was a client of Deloitte. Despite apparent conflict of interests, Deloitte became administrators and liquidators of Comet.

In July 2014, the UK Business Secretary referred Deloitte’s appointment to the ICAEW on two counts. Firstly, a potential conflict of interest as the three partners had previously advised the company and parties connected with Comet.

Secondly, the £26m cost inflicted on taxpayers by Deloitte. In the words of the Business Secretary, “There can be no excuse for failing to comply with the law which is very clear in this area”.

The insolvency industry has around 1,300 active practitioners who handle all UK personal and business insolvencies.

They are licensed and regulated by five trade associations, mainly accountancy bodies, under the supervision of the Insolvency Service which is part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

None of the regulators have any independence from the industry. The ICAEW is one of these regulators. Big accounting firms provide its council members, officeholders and personnel for major committees. The ICAEW frequently opposes reforms at the behest of big firms.

On 30 January 2020, some five and half years after referral from the government, the ICAEW announced the outcome of its inquiry.

A full report is not available. Instead, a three and half page disciplinary report says that Deloitte and its partners did not comply with the rules on independence and conflicts of interests. A £1m fine has been levied.

No questions are asked about the exorbitant charge-out rates. Stakeholders cannot corroborate anything as insolvency practitioners’ files are not publicly available.

The ICAEW disciplinary report does not say anything about the issue of violation of the rights of Comet employees and the £26m bill footed by taxpayers.

Courts do not normally negotiate fines wrongdoers, but the ICAEW generally levies fines after consultation with big firms. Details cannot be ascertained as the ICAEW and other insolvency regulators are not subject to the freedom of information legislation.

The £1m fine will not be used to lighten the burden on Comet’s unsecured creditors or taxpayers. Instead, it fills the coffers of the ICAEW because it licensed the errant insolvency practitioners. It is directly benefitting from their failures.

The same thing has happened to the fines levied on audit firms for delivering dud audits. The ICAEW pocketed millions in fines from pre-2016 investigations.

In the insolvency industry non-compliance with the rules is very profitable. Deloitte and its partners failed to comply with the rules but made over £15m in fees.

The puny fines invite firms to game the system as they can generate big fees and easily pay puny fines. The ICAEW’ s coffers swelled by £1m from failures of its own members. Deloitte’s failures landed taxpayers with a bill of £26m but the government has not taken any against the firm.

The regulation of insolvency is not fit for purpose. Regulators have no independence and take years to complete any investigation. The insolvency industry has a licence to print money, has a history of abuses and lacks public accountability.

Deloitte declined to comment.

Update: This article was updated on 5th February to make it clearer that not only accountants are insolvency practitioners and the ICAEW has supported some reforms in the past.

Prem Sikka is a Professor of Accounting at the University of Sheffield and a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
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Re: Accountants now “Breaking Bad”, Creating Synthetic Numbe

Postby admin » Mon Jan 27, 2020 5:59 pm

Note from a reader:
neither the OSC and / or the Inv. Executive reporter, Greg Dalgetty, have reported how IFRS accounting practices allowed Clayton Smith

Clayton Smith, the founder and sole director of Crystal Wealth, had misappropriated $11.8 million from both funds.

to misappropriate $11.8 million from both funds.


[url]https://www.investmentexecutive.com/news/from-the-regulators/accounting-firm-to-pay-3-5-million-for-substandard-audits-of-crystal-wealth/
[/url]
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Accounting firm to pay $3.5 million for substandard audits of Crystal Wealth

A portion of the settlement agreement with the OSC will go to defrauded investors
By: Greg Dalgetty January 24, 2020

The Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) has reached a $3.5-million settlement agreement with BDO Canada LLP for BDO’s substandard audits of two investment funds’ financial statements.

According to the agreement, BDO was the auditor of Crystal Wealth Management Systems Limited and its two privately offered mutual fund trusts, the Crystal Wealth Media Strategy and the Crystal Wealth Mortgage Strategy.

BDO’s audits of the funds’ financial statements in 2014 and 2015 valued the media fund and the mortgage fund at approximately $50 million and $40 million, respectively. But it turned out that Clayton Smith, the founder and sole director of Crystal Wealth, had misappropriated $11.8 million from both funds.
In 2018, Smith reached a settlement agreement with the OSC in which he admitted to defrauding investors in the funds that BDO had audited.

In its settlement agreement with BDO, the OSC said
BDO failed to adhere to generally accepted auditing standards by not gathering sufficient evidence to corroborate the valuations of the Crystal Wealth funds, failing to undertake its work with sufficient professional skepticism and not completing quality control reviews.


“Investors rely on auditors to carry out their work with professional skepticism and proper oversight,” Jeff Kehoe, the OSC’s director of enforcement, said in a statement. “When auditors fall short, investors lose confidence in the integrity of financial reporting, a cornerstone of our capital markets.”

The OSC did not allege that BDO acted dishonestly or engaged in intentional misconduct when it audited Cyrstal Wealth’s financial statements. The OSC also noted that BDO has “taken a number of steps” to ensure adherence to accounting principles since 2015.

In addition to paying an administrative penalty of $3.5 million, BDO has agreed to pay $500,000 in costs. Upon court approval of the settlement, the OSC will recommend that $2.5 million of the penalty be allocated to Crystal Wealth investors.

“This settlement holds BDO accountable for failing to adequately carry out its role as a gatekeeper,” Kehoe said.
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Re: Accountants now “Breaking Bad”, Creating Synthetic Numbe

Postby admin » Wed Jan 15, 2020 2:15 pm

How Accountants Took Washington’s Revolving Door to a Criminal Extreme
and How Hundreds of Others Have Taken It for a Spin
BY DAVID S. HILZENRATH
FILED UNDER INVESTIGATION
JANUARY 14, 2020

23 MINUTE READ

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 2.13.21 PM.png

(Illustration: CJ Ostrosky / POGO)
This piece is part of a series. See the full series, or skip ahead to the next part, Captured: Financial Regulator At Risk.

Kai Bernier-Chen and Aadam Barclay contributed research for this story.
On a spring day in 2015, his last day on the job at the board that oversees corporate auditors, Brian Sweet stuffed an external hard drive containing confidential board records into his computer bag along with hard copies of other confidential board documents.

Then Sweet said goodbye to his life as a regulator inspecting the big accounting firm KPMG and walked through the revolving door to a new job at KPMG’s Park Avenue offices in New York. The partnership at KPMG came with pay of $525,000, more than double the approximately $240,000 he had been getting at the oversight board.

https://www.pogo.org/investigation/2020/01/how-accountants-took-washingtons-revolving-door-to-a-criminal-extreme/

Full article:

This piece is part of a series. See the full series, or skip ahead to the next part, Captured: Financial Regulator At Risk.

Kai Bernier-Chen and Aadam Barclay contributed research for this story.
On a spring day in 2015, his last day on the job at the board that oversees corporate auditors, Brian Sweet stuffed an external hard drive containing confidential board records into his computer bag along with hard copies of other confidential board documents.

Then Sweet said goodbye to his life as a regulator inspecting the big accounting firm KPMG and walked through the revolving door to a new job at KPMG’s Park Avenue offices in New York. The partnership at KPMG came with pay of $525,000, more than double the approximately $240,000 he had been getting at the oversight board.
Only a thin, porous border separates the auditing regulator from the auditing industry.
As Sweet would later testify, his bosses at KPMG soon made clear how they expected him to earn it.


KPMG had been performing disastrously on inspections conducted by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), and it was under pressure to improve. In the annual inspections, the oversight board scrutinizes a sample of the audits that major accounting firms perform on companies listed on U.S. stock markets. Advance word of which audits the PCAOB planned to inspect would give KPMG an edge.

On Sweet’s first day at the firm, over lunch at a posh Mediterranean restaurant, KPMG brass pumped him for information on the PCAOB’s inspection plans.
His second day on the job, in a tête-à-tête in an executive conference room, as Sweet recalled, his boss’s boss referred to the uneasiness Sweet had shown divulging such information and told him he needed to remember where his paycheck came from.
His fourth day on the job, while Sweet and his new boss, Thomas Whittle, walked back to the office from lunch at a Chinese restaurant, Sweet told Whittle that he knew which audits the oversight board planned to inspect that year—and that he had taken PCAOB documents with him.

That evening, “Thomas Whittle came by my office where I was sitting and he leaned against the door and asked me to give him the list,” Sweet testified.

Ties That Bind

Brian Sweet was part of a pipeline that funneled confidential information from KPMG’s prime regulator to KPMG.

The conspiracy took Washington’s notorious revolving door to a criminal extreme. According to the Justice Department, KPMG partners hired PCAOB employees, pumped them for inside information on the oversight board’s plans, and then exploited it to cheat on inspections.


Meanwhile, PCAOB employees angled for jobs at KPMG and divulged regulatory secrets to the audit firm.
The case laid bare inner workings of the revolving door in detail seldom seen.
The case has led to a series of convictions and guilty pleas—and a $50 million administrative fine against KPMG. It also laid bare inner workings of the revolving door in detail seldom seen.

Beyond the conduct labeled as criminal, in little-noticed testimony the case revealed a series of side contacts between senior KPMG partners and top officials of the PCAOB—one, or in some cases two, members of its five-member governing board. The low-profile meetings at locations such as the Capital Hilton, which is steps from the PCAOB’s Washington headquarters, gave KPMG leaders a preview of questioning they would later face at periodic meetings with the full board.

But all of that is just part of a larger picture: The supposedly independent regulator is inextricably tied to the industry it oversees, a Project On Government Oversight (POGO) investigation found.
Hundreds Pass Through Revolving Door

Based on an analysis of profiles from the professional networking site LinkedIn, as of November 2019, it appeared that more than 40% of PCAOB employees had worked for the so-called Big Four audit firms—Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young (EY), KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC),
POGO found. The Big Four overwhelmingly dominate auditing of the biggest corporations.

A search of LinkedIn turned up more than 340 people whose profiles said that they were currently employed at the PCAOB and that they previously worked for at least one of the Big Four. The oversight board’s budget for 2019 included a staff of 838.

At the same time, LinkedIn profiles showed more than 160 people working for the Big Four who had previously worked for the PCAOB. Scores have gone back and forth.

The numbers may not be complete; they include only people on LinkedIn whose profiles POGO could locate and access.

For current employees who went directly from the Big Four to the PCAOB or vice versa, half of the LinkedIn profiles indicated they did so with a gap of two months or less.

Ties like those may help explain why a supposedly strong and independent regulator has a history of bending to industry.

How an Agency You've Never Heard of Is Leaving the Economy at Risk

A federal watchdog you’ve probably never heard of is supposed to be protecting your financial security. But in key respects it’s been doing a feeble job.

For example, as POGO has documented, the accounting oversight board has a weak record of disciplining Big Four auditors for apparent violations identified by its own staff. When it does take disciplinary action, it has shielded auditors and their clients from public scrutiny by withholding key information from public records.

Though Congress empowered the oversight board to write new rules for auditors, the PCAOB has to a significant extent preserved the industry-written rules it inherited—rules that can make it difficult to hold auditors accountable. Recently, it has watered down rules meant to keep auditors relatively independent from the companies they audit.

In addition, the oversight board has ultimately refrained from adopting some of the most far-reaching reforms it has considered, such as requiring companies to periodically change audit firms. That would assure that, from time to time, new firms would step in with a strong incentive to expose any fraud or error their predecessors condoned or overlooked—lest they become liable for those problems themselves.

PCAOB spokesperson Torrie Matous did not respond to questions for this story.

Promises Unfulfilled

The PCAOB was created after accounting scandals at major companies such as Enron and WorldCom wiped out thousands of jobs and cost investors billions of dollars. Its mission is to protect investors, including anyone who is depending on a pension fund, 401(k) account, or individual retirement account to support them in retirement. It oversees the audit firms that certify corporate financial statements. More specifically, it is responsible for writing, checking compliance with, and enforcing auditing rules. The goal is to reduce the danger that companies will cook their books or otherwise mislead investors.

The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, Explained:

When Congress designed the oversight board in 2002, lawmakers said it would provide an independent check on corporate auditors. They said it would end a system in which corporate auditors largely regulated themselves.

“This legislation establishes a strong independent accounting oversight board, thereby bringing to an end the system of self-regulation in the accounting profession which, regrettably, has not only failed to protect investors, as we have seen in recent months, but which has in effect abused the confidence in the markets,” Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee at the time and chief author of the legislation, said on the Senate floor.

“This legislation builds a strong and independent board to oversee the accounting industry,” echoed Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY). “It will eliminate the climate of self-regulation that has historically guided accounting.”

As the connections between the regulators and the regulated illustrate, the promises of independence were overstated.

Swamped

The revolving door is hardly unique to the PCAOB. It’s endemic to Washington, and it’s one of the reasons federal Washington is known as a swamp.
Though the revolving door is subject to various ethics rules, it’s not inherently illegal.

It can infuse regulatory agencies with knowledge of industry and expertise. It also comes with risks. Will revolvers use regulatory power to serve the public interest or to advance the private agendas of once and future employers in the private sector? Can regulators who come from industry escape the culture, values, and world view of the firms that shaped them?

When they move from agencies to industry, will they use the knowledge and relationships they developed working as regulators to help their employers game the system and gain an unfair advantage? Fundamentally, will the regulatory agency be captured by the industry it regulates?

Captured: Financial Regulator At Risk

The revolving door between the Big Four audit firms and their regulator, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, spins in many troubling ways.



To some extent, it may be unsurprising that people who oversee corporate auditors have a background in corporate auditing, and that people who leave the regulatory agency go on to earn livelihoods that draw upon their professional knowledge and experience.

“It is essential that regulatory bodies understand market developments and that firms incorporate regulators’ views when implementing new technologies and techniques,” Julie Bell Lindsay, executive director of Center for Audit Quality, an industry-funded advocacy group for audit firms, said in an unsolicited statement for this story. Lindsay was responding to inquiries POGO had made to audit firms.

Ernst & Young spokesperson John La Place expressed a similar view.

“In the ordinary course of its business, EY hires qualified professionals who have prior experience at government entities,” he said by email in response to questions from POGO. “These individuals contribute valuable insights and diverse perspectives that enhance the firm’s quality of service to clients in addition to addressing risks, complying with regulations and upholding our values and commitment to independence.”

But in the depth and breadth of its ties to four huge firms that wield highly concentrated power, the accounting oversight board appears to take the revolving door to an unusual extreme.

The agency and any agency employees contemplating future private-sector careers related to auditing are exceptionally dependent on the very oligopoly they are responsible for overseeing.

Combined with the PCAOB’s extreme lack of transparency and public accountability—it operates largely in secret, makes limited public disclosures, and is immune from the Freedom of Information Act—it’s a recipe for trouble.
Pumped

By the end of 2014, KPMG was in deep trouble with its overseers. That year, the firm failed 54% of its inspections.


At a December 2014 meeting with the PCAOB’s governing board, KPMG leaders were sharply rebuked.

Looking back on it from the witness stand, a senior KPMG partner named Thomas Whittle remembered the meeting as “sort of a punch in the gut.”

Whittle shared managerial responsibility for improving the firm’s inspection results, and his turnaround strategy included recruiting a PCAOB employee named Brian Sweet. Sweet understood KPMG’s problems better than most, because he was one of the people assigned to inspect the firm.

To welcome Sweet to the firm, several KPMG partners, including David Middendorf, the head of the firm’s national office, took him to lunch at Avra, a Greek restaurant near KPMG’s Manhattan executive offices where the current fare includes octopus carpaccio and tuna tartare. By Sweet’s sworn account, the conversation moved far beyond pleasantries. As they sat in a curved booth, Sweet testified, Middendorf and another partner asked him about the PCAOB’s still secret inspection plans for the year.

In Sweet’s telling, he acknowledged that he knew which audits the oversight board planned to inspect.
They asked if a company called Stonegate Mortgage was one of them. Sweet recalled that he “confirmed it to them without trying to just come right out and say yes.” Middendorf asked if a big block of time the PCAOB had already indicated it had reserved for an inspection in San Francisco was for Wells Fargo.


Botched Audits: Big Four Accounting Firms Fail Many Inspections

In the most recent annual inspections of the U.S. arms of the Big Four for which the oversight board has reported results, inspectors found that each firm botched at least 20% of their audits.

“I remember kind of shrugging my shoulders and indicating, ‘Well, could it be anyone else?’” Sweet testified.

As Sweet recalled, Middendorf slapped the table and exclaimed, “I knew it.”

Why didn’t Sweet just say yes? “Because I knew that by directly answering ‘yes’ was a very clear violation of the PCAOB's ethics code because it was such confidential information,” Sweet testified when Middendorf went on trial last year for his role in the affair.

Testifying in his own defense, Middendorf described the lunch in more benign terms. He testified that he told Sweet, “I only want you to share what you’re allowed to share.” He added that he did not feel he pressured Sweet.

The day after the lunch, Sweet met with Middendorf in an executive conference room. Middendorf was Whittle’s boss. As Sweet recalled, Middendorf referenced Sweet’s uneasiness confirming Stonegate Mortgage and indicated “that while I might have felt that that was a gray area, that I was there at the firm to share insight and add value wherever I could and that was his expectation of me.” Middendorf urged him to maintain strong contacts with his former colleagues at the PCAOB, Sweet testified.

“I remember that David Middendorf also indicated or told me that I needed to remember where my paycheck came from and that I was now a partner at KPMG,” Sweet testified.

According to the Justice Department, KPMG partners hired PCAOB employees, pumped them for inside information on the oversight board’s plans, and then exploited it to cheat on inspections.

By Sweet’s account, he got the message.

Later that week, as Sweet and his immediate supervisor, Whittle, walked back to the office from lunch at a Chinese restaurant, Sweet told Whittle that, not only did he know the PCAOB’s inspection plans for the year, but also he had taken PCAOB documents with him. That evening, “Thomas Whittle came by my office where I was sitting and he leaned against the door and asked me to give him the list,” Sweet testified.

Sweet told Whittle he needed a few minutes. In part, he needed time to think. Then, he fished out one of the documents he had taken with him from the PCAOB, a partial list. “I went over to Tom's office and went to his desk and handed him the list.”

Sweet described taking the document back and then returning to his hotel room for the night.

Whittle remembered those events somewhat differently. According his testimony, as best he could recall, the list didn’t come up until he stopped by Sweet’s office, and he initially balked at accepting it. Before taking such a serious step—a step he thought was wrong—he wanted to check with Middendorf, he testified. According to Whittle, Middendorf told him to get the list.

There’s no dispute over what happened the following morning. By email, Whittle asked Sweet to give the list to his executive assistant. “Brian, could you have Lisa scan and send me the banking selection list? Thanks,” Whittle wrote.

Sweet gave Whittle’s assistant more than just the list of bank audits the PCAOB planned to inspect.
"I’d appreciate the team’s discretion to make sure it isn’t too widely disseminated."

BRIAN SWEET IN AN EMAIL TO THOMAS WHITTLES
“Just so you know, it is actually the full list of anticipated inspections (including non-banks),” Sweet told Whittle by email. “I’d appreciate the team’s discretion to make sure it isn't too widely disseminated,” he added.

"Brian, got it and understand the sensitivity,” Whittle replied. “Have … a great weekend. Enjoy your DOM.”

The “DOM,” Sweet explained, was a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne the firm had sent to welcome him as a newly minted partner.

But, during Sweet’s early days at the firm, Whittle also offered a warning, Sweet testified. “I remember him telling me that I was most valuable to him the first day that I joined KPMG and effectively that I had less value as time went on.” In other words, “That my usefulness was only because of the role that I played in the PCAOB and that the utility of what I knew, the benefit that the firm got from what I knew would decline over time.”

Whittle recounted that conversation in similar terms.

“I told him that he was of most value because he had just come from the PCAOB and knew how they operated and knew what their issues were, but over time that information will be less relevant as they make changes in personnel and they come up with new issues,” Whittle testified.

Whittle also said he wanted to make sure that, as time passed, Sweet was “seen as adding value to the firm in other ways.”

Sweet and Whittle pleaded guilty to federal charges and testified for the prosecution as cooperating witnesses when Middendorf stood trial in early 2019. The case offered a view of the revolving door’s inner workings and showed that only a porous border separated the auditing regulator from the auditing industry.
“Anonymous Email”

Sweet was part of an expanding network that connected KPMG to the PCAOB, according to his testimony and other evidence presented in court.

When Sweet decided to leave the PCAOB for a partnership at KPMG in 2015, he recalled, he shared the news with a PCAOB colleague named Cynthia Holder, who, like him, worked on inspections of KPMG.

“She was very happy for me but also told me that if the firm, KPMG were hiring other people, that she also wanted to leave the PCAOB and would love to join KPMG,” Sweet recalled.


During his first days at the firm, Sweet called Holder and requested a favor. Could she remind him about some information that he had helped draft for a report the PCAOB was preparing about KPMG?
“She was very happy for me but also told me that if the firm, KPMG were hiring other people, that she also wanted to leave the PCAOB and would love to join KPMG.”

TESTIMONY OF BRIAN SWEET
Less than two weeks after Sweet arrived at KPMG, he got an email from Holder’s personal AOL email account. The subject line: “Anonymous Email.” The body of the email contained only a smiley face. But attached was the information Sweet had requested.

It was, he testified, “very valuable” to KPMG.

Within several weeks of arriving at KPMG, Sweet testified, he got a call from Holder on a different matter. Holder was working on a PCAOB inspection of a KPMG audit, and she wanted Sweet’s advice. She was considering citing a potential problem with the audit, and she wanted his opinion, Sweet testified.

Sweet said he advised her not to write it up. He testified that she agreed, saying, “OK, yeah, that’s what I thought too.”

Later that year, Sweet testified, he helped Holder get a job at KPMG. Following his example, he said, she brought confidential PCAOB records with her.


KPMG made a concerted effort to recruit others from the oversight board, and the firm tapped Sweet to identify candidates, Sweet and Whittle testified. Like Holder, some were involved in inspecting KPMG and had expressed an interest in joining the firm.

One sent Sweet a copy of his résumé—and then cut KPMG slack on an inspection, Sweet testified.

The recruitment effort yielded 10 or more hires, Sweet estimated.
“Stealth” Cleanup

At KPMG, Holder maintained a running dialogue with a colleague of hers still at the PCAOB named Jeffrey Wada, who fed her information, Sweet testified.

On March 28, 2016, Holder texted Sweet to phone her as soon as he could, “with three exclamation points,” Sweet recounted. When they connected, Holder told him that Wada had given her the names of the KPMG bank clients whose audits the PCAOB would inspect in 2016.

“She explained to me that Jeff had gone into the PCAOB's IIS system [Inspections Information System] and had accessed the planning information for the PCAOB's KPMG inspection team and had specifically gone into the schedule,” Sweet testified.

Sweet said he understood that the audits on the list had already been completed but were still in the 45-day window when KPMG could revise or augment the audit documentation without flagging the changes.

What ensued was an urgent, “stealth” effort by KPMG personnel to scrutinize the records of the audits on the list that had the highest stakes, Sweet testified.

“I remember Tom Whittle specifically saying that we needed to maintain a circle of trust, that only the people in that room were to know the real reason for why we were doing these re-reviews,” Sweet said.
“This was confidential information that had been stolen from the PCAOB, and rather than report it back, we were deciding to take action to do things to improve, potentially manipulate the PCAOB's inspection results.”

TESTIMONY OF BRIAN SWEET
“This was confidential information that had been stolen from the PCAOB, and rather than report it back, we were deciding to take action to do things to improve, potentially manipulate the PCAOB's inspection results,” Sweet said.

As part of the effort, Sweet recalled proposing changes to audit records.

The review of one audit uncovered “very significant audit deficiencies,” prompting KPMG to change the conclusion of its audit, Sweet said. By preemptively flagging problems at that company, KPMG deterred the oversight board from inspecting that audit.

The covert program succeeded, Sweet said. Generally, inspections of the audits subject to the “stealth rereviews” showed “significant improvement,” Sweet said.

In a presentation KPMG prepared for a meeting with the PCAOB, the audit firm attributed the improvement to its internal quality control efforts. The results, the presentation said, had been “terrific.”

But Whittle worried that the success might be hard to repeat. “On the one hand, I was very pleased that our inspection results were so—were so good, but also concerned that if we didn’t have that same information in a subsequent period, that we could see a return of deficiencies that would be difficult to explain,” he testified.
“Sell Myself to KPMG”

The following year, Holder again obtained inside information.

On January 9, 2017, Holder told Sweet that Wada had given her a list of audits the PCAOB was likely to inspect that year, and she conveyed the information.

After midnight that night, Wada poured out his hopes and frustrations in an email to Holder.

“I am now trying to sell myself to KPMG,”
Wada typed.

The email included a copy of his résumé and brought into sharp relief what a tangled web connects the oversight board and the industry it oversees.

Wada had gone from the big audit firm Deloitte to the PCAOB, and said he dreamed of moving to a new job at KPMG.

“It’s funny how I was on the fast track to partner and clearly recognized for my talents at Deloitte and then I ended up at this effin place with all the BS politicking that I loath [sic] and now I can’t get a GD promotion to save my life just because I refuse to kiss people’s asses and spread the political rhetoric,” Wada wrote. “God, this place sucks."


As potential references, Wada cited KPMG auditors whose work he had inspected—people over whom he had served in a watchdog role.

“I can give you a list of names of the partners I inspected over there in Tokyo. One of the senior partners on the Honda Engagement Team really liked my style and respected my approach,”
Wada wrote.

In the late-night email, Wada asked, “Please let me know what else you need from me.”

Weeks later, Wada texted Holder, “Okay, I have the grocery list.” Then, a minute later, “All the things you’ll need for the year.”

The next day, in a 48-minute phone call, Wada read Holder the complete confidential list of KPMG audits to be inspected by the PCAOB in 2017, according to an indictment.
Barbecued Evidence

Then it all unraveled.

In February 2017, as he moved to exploit the extraordinary information, Sweet got careless. Going outside the tight circle of trust, he told members of KPMG audit teams that their audits were slated for inspection. One was appalled that the firm had acquired and planned to act on inside information. As she reported it up her chain of command and word spread, others were similarly outraged. KPMG initiated an internal investigation.

Holder, a former FBI agent with experience in organized crime cases, coached Sweet on how to carry out a cover-up, Sweet recalled. “Cindy suggested that we get burner phones. Cindy and I talked about using Instagram as a code that if either of us posted a picture, like a direct message in Instagram of a college football team picture, that that would be a code to then dial into a conference call number,” Sweet testified.

“I was trying to cover my tracks.”

TESTIMONY OF BRIAN SWEET

Holder claimed to have hidden confidential PCAOB information in an electrical socket, Sweet said.

Sweet resorted to more basic tradecraft. After being questioned by a KPMG lawyer, he burned some of the evidence in his backyard barbecue.

“I was trying to cover my tracks,” he testified.
Cooperating

“KPMG immediately notified regulators and took decisive action to separate partners and personnel who behaved inappropriately from the firm, and cooperated with the government and our regulators to investigate and remediate this matter,” KPMG spokesperson Andrew Wilson said in a statement to POGO. “We learned from this experience and we are a stronger firm today due to the steps taken to strengthen our culture, governance and compliance program.”

Firms typically settle enforcement actions brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) without admitting or denying wrongdoing. Extraordinarily, in 2019, when KPMG agreed to pay $50 million to settle the SEC’s administrative case, the accounting firm admitted the facts laid out by the SEC. KPMG also acknowledged that its conduct violated a rule requiring it “to maintain integrity” and “to comply with ethics standards,” the SEC enforcement order said.

It appears that, in reaction to the scandal, KPMG has changed its hiring practices.

"We do not recruit directly from our regulatory agencies, nor directly hire anyone who worked on KPMG matters in a regulatory capacity,” Wilson told POGO by email. “In the rare instances when we hire professionals with regulatory experience for our Audit practice, our goal is to ensure that our firm and our clients are up to speed on the latest professional standards and regulations so that we can continue to deliver high quality audits that the capital markets can rely upon.”

Wilson wouldn’t say when or why KPMG adopted that approach to hiring.

Lawyers for Sweet, Holder, and Whittle did not respond to emails for this story.
Airport Rendezvous

KPMG had another special channel to the PCAOB. It went straight to the oversight board’s governing board.

There’s no suggestion it involved any criminality, though when it came up in court there were questions about how it comported with the PCAOB’s ethics code.

In 2015, the two seats on the PCAOB governing board reserved for accountants were held by Jay Hanson and Jeanette Franzel. Franzel was formerly a government auditor; she had worked at the Government Accountability Office. Hanson had spent more than three decades at the accounting firm McGladrey & Pullen, now known as RSM, where he rose to the position of national director of accounting.

Called as a witness for the defense when KPMG’s Middendorf went on trial, Hanson was asked about a series of contacts he had with Middendorf and other senior KPMG partners. Those contacts preceded periodic meetings at which KPMG leaders faced questioning by the PCAOB’s full governing board.

Hanson said he invited the contacts. “Sometime after I started with the board in 2011, I was approached by a member of leadership of another firm with just a request that they wondered if I would be willing to meet with them before their scheduled meeting with the board to share my personal views on what I thought was most important to get out of the meeting,” Hanson testified. “And after having several meetings like that with other firms, I made it known to all firms that I could that if anybody wanted to talk to me before the meeting, phone call or meeting, I would be willing to do that.”

Hanson said he believed that the so-called “preboard” meetings would help KPMG be better prepared for the actual board meetings. He said he generally reviewed the agenda with Middendorf for the upcoming board meeting.

Under questioning, Hanson said Franzel sometimes accompanied him to the preboard meetings.

“Generally other than Ms. Franzel, I did not make it a habit of telling my fellow board members about the meetings,” Hanson said.

One meeting took place at the Capital Hilton, about a block from the oversight board’s Washington headquarters. Another took place at the elegant Hay-Adams hotel, just north of the White House and only slightly farther from the PCAOB.

On a third occasion, the men from KPMG met Hanson outside Terminal B at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, at a spot called Cibo Bistro & Wine Bar. “I recall that they flew in to meet with me,” Hanson testified.

At each of those preview meetings, Hanson—or Hanson and Franzel—“handed us a draft agenda of the meeting with the PCAOB board that would take place sometime after,” Middendorf later stated.

There was also a preview by phone, the result of a request Middendorf made by email on September 6, 2016.

“Jay, I hope you had a great Labor Day weekend,” Middendorf wrote. “I wanted to reach out and see if you and Jeanette would have some time to meet with Scott Marcello [of KPMG] and myself before the meeting with the board to help us prepare and get some idea of what may be on the agenda.”

“We have not had our internal prep meeting yet and I can’t find that it has been scheduled,” Hanson replied. “However, let’s get something on the calendar to talk.”

KPMG was officially given copies of the agendas shortly before the board meetings. The meetings with Hanson gave KPMG more time to prepare, Middendorf testified.
“I don’t believe what I did was wrong. I thought it was probably stretching the limits in a gray area, but not something that I did wrong.”

TESTIMONY OF DAVID MIDDENDORF, THE FORMER HEAD OF KPMG’S NATIONAL OFFICE
Hanson testified that he didn’t “recall specifically” whether at any of the preboard meetings he gave draft agendas to Middendorf.

“My general practice was meeting with the firm when they had the agenda in their hands, and sometimes just for pure logistics to get something on the calendar . . . expecting that by the time I came, the firm would have the agenda from the board—or from the staff . . . as a basis for the discussion,” Hanson said.

“I do recall a meeting where, to my surprise, the agenda had not been provided to the firm yet and I used my personal copy of the draft agenda with my views of what the agenda should be,” Hanson said.

With supporting exhibits, Middendorf described returning to New York with the fruits of encounters with Hanson and Franzel and promptly meeting with KPMG executives such as the CEO, the chief operating officer, and a vice chair to go over the information. He recounted that, after one of his trips to Washington, KPMG executives sprang into action to prepare for their upcoming meeting with the full PCAOB board. He said they wrote a script.

In a similar vein, Whittle said he recalled “at least one time we did get a draft or something through one of the board members.” Whittle said KPMG used it “as if it was the actual agenda, and we tried to prepare remarks that would be responsive to it.”

Section EC9 of the PCAOB’s ethics code says: “Unless authorized by the Board, no Board member or staff shall disseminate or otherwise disclose any information obtained in the course and scope of his or her employment, and which has not been released, announced, or otherwise made available publicly.”

At Middendorf’s trial, Hanson was asked if he violated that rule during the meeting where he acknowledged using his copy of the draft agenda.

“No,” he answered.

“Why is that?” he was asked.

“I had the draft that I believed should be the agenda and discussed my views on that but did not represent it as a board agenda, represented it as my personal agenda,” he said.

Pressed as to whether he actually told Middendorf that he was merely expressing his personal view, Hanson waffled.

“I don’t recall explicitly doing that,” he said.

Hanson abruptly resigned from the PCAOB on December 23, 2016. When he testified in March 2019 during Middendorf’s trial, he described himself as retired.

During the trial, at a sidebar conference with lawyers in the case, the judge said that information that might have been used to impeach Hanson—in other words, to challenge his credibility—was filed under seal. “I can say it relates to the terms of Mr. Hanson’s separation from the PCAOB. Beyond that, I don’t think I can go into it,” the judge said.

POGO tried unsuccessfully to contact Hanson via telephone, LinkedIn, and FedEx.

Interviewed for this story, Franzel declined to discuss the preboard contacts in any detail. “As a regulator I had contact with the firms because we regulated the firms,” she said. “And it was always in the context of my regulatory role and responsibilities.”

Since leaving the PCAOB governing board in 2018, Franzel has joined an advisory board of the Center for Audit Quality. That group describes itself as an advocacy organization for audit firms. The advisory board offers “a forum for dialogue and a source of guidance” for a program on research grants, the group’s executive director, Lindsay, said in a statement.

Franzel also became an adviser to Ernst & Young (EY), one of the Big Four audit firms.

“Her insights and experience are of great value to EY as we deliver on our commitment to the highest quality in audits,” John La Place, the spokesperson for EY, said in an email to POGO. “EY and Ms. Franzel are aware of the ethical requirements resulting from her role as a former PCAOB Board member, and we are confident of her and our ongoing compliance with those obligations,” he added.

Under the PCAOB ethics code, people who leave the oversight board “shall not practice before the board” on particular matters they worked on while at the board and must wait a year before practicing before the board on other matters.

Franzel deflected questions about her relationships with EY and the industry group.

Today, Middendorf is free on bail while appealing his conviction. He has been sentenced to a prison term of one year and one day—not for his meetings with Hanson, but rather for participating in what the Justice Department has summarized as a scheme to steal confidential PCAOB information and cheat on inspections.

Middendorf had no comment for this story, his lawyer Nelson Boxer said.

However, in court, Middendorf reflected on his role in the effort to exploit inspection secrets. If nothing else, his defense reflected the values of one former boss at one of the major audit firms.

“I don’t believe what I did was wrong,” the former head of KPMG’s national office told the jury. “I thought it was probably stretching the limits in a gray area, but not something that I did wrong.”


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Re: Accountants now “Breaking Bad”, Creating Synthetic Numbe

Postby admin » Sat Oct 05, 2019 9:13 am

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Public anger towards auditors alarms UK expert reviewing sector

Donald Brydon accepts performance must improve in the wake of high-profile corporate collapses
Donald Brydon, Chairman of the London Stock Exchange.
Donald Brydon: 'I’m a little troubled by the current
mood that reaches for a shotgun aimed at auditors
every time there’s a corporate problem' © Charlie
Bibby/FT

Kate Beioley in London OCTOBER 4, 2019

The public are reaching for “a shotgun aimed at auditors” when companies fail, according to the leader of a UK government-ordered probe into the role and quality of the audit market.

Speaking publicly for the first time since starting his review, former London Stock Exchange chair Donald Brydon said on Friday he was “troubled” by people who pinned too much blame on auditors for recent high-profile corporate blow-ups. But he acknowledged that the sector must improve.

“It is not auditors that cause companies to fail, that’s the result of the actions of directors,” said the City veteran. “I’m a little troubled by the current mood that reaches for a shotgun aimed at auditors every time there’s a corporate problem.


“Audit needs to be an attractive profession that attracts the brightest and the best who can have confidence that a good piece of professional work will not be misdescribed in times of stress.”

Sir Donald was asked in December to lead a review of audit standards, including considering how to make auditors more effective and more reputable in the wake of high-profile corporate collapses and audit issues.

Recent scandals have included PwC’s £6.5m fine last year by the UK accounting watchdog over misconduct in relation to the firm’s audit of retailer BHS two years before it collapsed. This week it emerged that the Financial Reporting Council was investigating EY’s audit of Thomas Cook, the latest UK household name to collapse.

In July PwC and Grant Thornton were singled out for criticism by the regulator after between a third and a half of their largest audits fell below expected standards.

Sir Donald said he was considering whether to widen auditors’ responsibilities to those other than shareholders and requiring auditors to report in greater detail on risk and corporate governance issues.

Political debate over the future of audit is intensifying as the government considers whether to break up the Big Four following a review by the competition watchdog in April, and weighs reform proposals put forward by former Treasury mandarin John Kingman last year.

Sir Donald said he had encountered frustration with a “narrow, backward-looking” approach to audit rules, and stressed that high quality audit required “more than the following of prescriptive standards and the completion of files”.

“There is a hunger for audit to be informative and not just evidencing compliance,” he said, adding he was “seeking for audit to become more informative and not just a compliance-checking function, and one which helps to maintain and grow trust in business as a whole”.

Sir Donald received 120 formal submissions to his call for evidence amounting to 2,500 pages of suggestions from auditors, regulators and members of the public. He said it was vital to look “not just at auditors” but audit committees, boards and management too.
He is due to submit his report by the end of the year.

In response to a question as to whether inward UK investment could be affected by tough new rules, Mr Brydon said “the greater the trust in the corporate sector, the probability is that you will attract investment”, noting the greater challenge was to “help the world move at the same pace”.

He also appeared to show some sympathy with individual auditors concerned about liability.

“I think it quite odd,” he added, “that the firms have been able to find mechanisms to limit liability while the audit partner remains on the hook with unlimited liability, that seems to be a strange concept.”


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Re: Accountants now “Breaking Bad”, Creating Synthetic Numbe

Postby admin » Fri Aug 23, 2019 7:56 pm

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Worlds Apart: Supreme Court rulings vs. Canadian reporting standards

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Investor protections have been stripped away, says Al Rosen

Aug 23, 2019
Author: Al Rosen
TORONTO – Do money managers comprehend the disjunction between Canadian financial reporting standards and the rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada? Evidence convincingly shows that a batch of financial tricksters know the vast difference well and became the beneficiaries. Investigators regularly see the huge separation when corporate financial failures occur, when prosecutions of alleged frauds are road blocked. In contrast, the average investor appears unaware of absent protections, and suffers the surprise consequences of lost savings.

Contrary to our accounting profession’s assertions that the objective of financial information is to be “useful to existing and potential investors, lenders and other creditors in making decisions about providing resources to the entity,” the Supreme Court has erected serious barriers to curtail investors’ financial recoveries.

Most civil lawsuits, if pursued, are forced to be commenced by the failed company itself, which too often was governed by the alleged financial tricksters, who helped to bankrupt the company. Thus, ways have to be devised by lawyers to circumvent, if possible, the unfathomable Supreme Court version of alleged narrow objectives of reporting and investor protection.

Extensive consequences continue to arise in Canada. For example, knowledgeable investors do not bother to invest in Canadian public companies, when tricksters can so easily steal one’s savings (including pension money). Investment dollars and jobs are being sent to other countries.


The silence from our lawmakers in not having drastically revised Companies Acts and Securities Acts, in light of Supreme Court biases, sends a clear message to those who choose to prolong their thievery.

How did Canada drop to this dismal current state, where maximum risk has to be borne by investors and creditors?

The Supreme Court of Canada’s record

It began with an Supreme Court decision in 1997 involving Winnipeg’s Hercules Managements. Its auditors successfully argued that the purposes of audited financial statements were not as advertised by public accountants. Their purpose was restricted to shareholders (not potential investors) using financial statements to evaluating management.

Corporate management was authorized by the Supreme Court to prepare financial statements that shareholders would have to use to evaluate the competence of this same management. Such a philosophy bears a strong resemblance to eight-year-olds being permitted to prepare their own school report cards to take home to their parents. Financial accounting in Canada simply allows too many choices for the Supreme Court decision on the topic to make even tiny sense.

Rather than seeing an outcry to such an Supreme Court decision, silence in Canada continues to prevail. Worse, external auditors did not raise concerns that the 1997 decision was contrary to the Canadian standards, which stress the importance of investor and creditor decision-making. Two decades of accountants and auditors have come into the profession without being taught about the vast gulf between Supreme Court decisions, and what Canadian standards require.

The decade following 1997 is now famous for the failures of Nortel, Livent, the business income trusts and much more. A coincidence? The decade thereafter has brought forth Sino-Forest Corporation, Poseidon Concepts and many others. Some pensions and savings have vanished.

The worst was yet to come. Christmas 2017 saw the Supreme Court’s decision on Livent, which stripped away remaining protections, especially those that existed in securities acts across Canada. Lower court decisions since the Livent decision can only be described as depressing for investors. Yet no correction to the Court’s narrow objectives of financial reporting have been enacted by lawmakers.

Perhaps more puzzling is why Canada’s external auditors are somehow not comprehending that they are “self-inflicting” oncoming deep injuries. Audited financial statements are essentially obsolete, given the Supreme Court’s decisions. Investors are being pushed away as consumers by auditor silence. In turn, we are telling foreign investors not to invest in Canada, because we do not intend to devise legislation that shares risks and protect investors.

In the last 10 years, the TSX has been one of the worst performing stock markets in the entire world. As Maclean’s Magazine put it, “if you were unlucky enough to buy into the stock market at the peak in 2008, just before the financial crisis hit full force, your gains (excluding dividends) wouldn’t buy you much more than two loaves of price-fixed bread at Loblaws and a bag of President’s Choice sour grapes.”

Some pundits blame the collapse of oil prices. Others blame the lack of vibrant tech sector and champions. Is it possible, however, that foreign investors avoid Canada and its Wild West reputation?

Why are we remaining silent?

Individual accountants who can see what is occurring are unprofessionally remaining quiet. Lawmakers today are ignoring growing crises in marijuana, REITs, pension and other loose Canadian financial reporting. Instead, time is being wasted on archaic distractions such as a national version of provincial securities commissions that have clearly been failures at minimizing investor losses, through their inaction.

Yes, serious topics such as global warming are important and complex. But the outright swindling of investors in Canada is a serious, homegrown problem that can be cured by us, if lawmakers have the political will.

The views and opinions expressed by contributing writers to Canadian Accountant are their own. Canadian Accountant and its parent company bear no responsibility for the accuracy and opinions of contributing writers.

Dr. Al Rosen, FCA, FCMA, FCPA, CFE, CIP and Mark Rosen, MBA, CFA, CFE, provide independent, forensic accounting investment research. They are the co-authors of Easy Prey Investors: Why Broken Safety Nets Threaten Your Wealth. Learn more at Accountability Research Corporation and Rosen & Associates Limited.

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Re: Accountants now “Breaking Bad”, Creating Synthetic Numbe

Postby admin » Sat Jul 13, 2019 7:36 am

Remember how audit failures contributed to the banking crash, collapse of BHS & Carillion. People lost jobs, pensions, savings & investments; taxpayers bailed out banks. Audit quality is just as bad now and audit reports remain a cruel deception.


~Prof Emeritus Prem Sikka

https://leftfootforward.org/2019/07/how ... -partners/

How rotten audits are enriching accountancy firms and their partners
Prem Sikka
July 12, 2019

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Why do we keep rubber stamping failure?

Here is a question: how would you feel if you learnt that surgeons routinely botched 25%-50% of say, surgical operations, or aircraft maintenance works were deficient?

There would be a public outcry. Surgeons and airlines would be inundated with lawsuits and put out of business.

The same situation has persisted in the auditing industry for years – but with little action.

A rotten sector

The latest evidence comes from the audit quality inspection reports published by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), the UK’s accounting and auditing regulator. The FRC’s sample showed that 25% of the audits carried out by Britain’s seven largest audit firms failed to meet even the light-touch standards of the UK. At Grant Thornton, the firm that audited Patisserie Valerie and failed to report frauds, nearly 50% of the sample audits were found to be deficient.

Only 65% of the FTSE350 audits carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) were found to be of acceptable standard. The firm audited BHS, where its audit partner spent just two hours on the job to conclude that it was a suitable enterprise. Last month, PwC was fined £4.55 million over botched audits at Redcentric plc.

At KPMG, the firm that audited Carillion, 80% of the audits were found to be an acceptable standard. Earlier this year, the firm was fined £6m for botched audits of Equity Syndicate Management Limited.

75% of the FTSE350 audits performed by Deloitte were considered to be satisfactory compared to 79% the year before. Earlier this month, the firm was fined £6.5m for audit failures at Serco Geografix Limited.

And 78% of the audits performed by Ernst & Young, the firm that rubber-stamped London Capital & Finance, were considered to require no more than limited improvements, compared with 67% in 2017/18. That still makes 22% deficient. In 2017, the firm was fined £1.8m for audit failures at Tech Data Limited.

This state of affairs has existed for years. Puny sanctions have made no difference. Personal liability could force the firm partners to rethink, but it is almost impossible for injured stakeholders to sue audit firms for negligence, as in general they owe a duty of care to the company only. Meanwhile, fees keep rolling-in and partners in large firms are raking up £700k-£800k a year.

The rot is global

Earlier this month, US regulator fined KPMG $50m for altering past audit work, after receiving stolen information about audit inspections of the firm that would be conducted by the regulator. The aim was to improve the firm’s audit quality ratings by preventing inspectors for discovering deficiencies.

The regulator found that twenty-eight KPMG audit professionals, including some senior partners, cheated on internal training exams by improperly sharing answers and manipulating test results. A number of former KPMG personnel have been charged with theft and may receive prison sentences.

Big accounting firms continue to be promoted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. To attract foreign investment, India has been obliged to open its audit market to big western firms. In 2018, following failure to report $1.7bn fraud at Satyam Computer Services, India banned PriceWaterhouse from auditing any listed company for a period of two years.

The collapse of the IL&FS Financial Services Limited (IFIN) is one of the biggest financial scandals to rock India. The company was audited by Deloitte from 2008/09 to 2017/18, and by a KPMG affiliate, BSR & Associates, from 2017/18. The revelations of mammoth frauds focused attention on auditors.

The Indian government is now seeking to ban both firms from doing audits of listed companies for a period of five years. Its court filing alleges that the firms “deliberately” failed to report fraudulent activities at IFIN and that “the fraud committed at IFIN is nothing short of organised crime, actively aided and abetted by the statutory auditors”. Both auditors have denied wrongdoing, saying their audits were conducted in full compliance with professional standards and regulations in India.

Patronage of the state

The big firms rely upon the patronage of western governments to shield them from the consequences of alleged wrongdoing.

The US is trying to save auditors’ bacon in India, with the US ambassador informed the Indian government that “any move to ban Deloitte and other big auditing firms would disrupt businesses and investment inflows into the country” as foreign investors make their decision to invest globally on the advice and guidance from the Big Four networks.

Other countries are however levying large fines and imposing bans on failed audit firms. There is little effective action in the UK. Despite audit failures at banks leading to the 2007-08 crash, BHS, Carillion and elsewhere, no meaningful reforms have been introduced.

In December 2018, the Competition and Markets Authority proposed modest reforms of the audit industry. I and my colleagues also submitted a report to the Shadow Chancellor on much needed reforms. The big firms are furiously lobbying against reforms and the government’s response is further consultation with the audit industry.

The Financial Reporting Council says that its aim is to ensure that 90% of the audits meet acceptable standards i.e. accept an audit failure rate of 10%.

I’m sure you’d be relieved at surgeons only routinely botching 10% of operations…

Prem Sikka is a Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield, and Emeritus Professor of Accounting at University of Essex. He is a Contributing Editor for Left Foot Forward and tweets here.
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Re: Accountants now “Breaking Bad”, Creating Synthetic Numbe

Postby admin » Thu Jul 04, 2019 11:25 am

Current value accounting is fuelling a Ponzi scheme market

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IFRS is fundamentally extreme accrual accounting, says Al Rosen

Jul 2, 2019 Author: Al Rosen
TORONTO – Should professional accountants in Canada be actively sponsoring a financial reporting system that supports, in my opinion, the widespread use of Ponzi schemes? Such schemes promote the sales of additional debt or equity money from the public, which is then used to pay interest, or dividends, or returns of principal to those who previously purchased an entity’s dubious debt or equity.

Ponzi schemes are sometimes referred to as “borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.” Repayments ought to be from real cash earnings to be labelled as legitimate. They should not be from the “money circling” that is part of the scheme. A fine line can sometimes exist between borrowing for serious expansion purposes versus borrowing because no real cash earnings have been generated to pay debts.

For years, what constituted “real cash earnings” was defined as including, with few exceptions, revenues less expenses that arose from enforceable third-party contracts being agreed upon. Management estimates were to be kept to a minimum when fair market values were not otherwise verifiable. Some professional judgment from accountants and auditors was permitted but was largely confined within the word “professional” and its duty to the public.

Reporting’s focus in Canada prior to 2011 was concentrated upon “what actually happened,” much like the scores recorded at a sporting event, like baseball. The concept underlying the past-based focus was that the past results could be useful inputs showing trends for possible current investments.

For investment purposes, more than just records of past events obviously are required. Estimates beyond financial reporting have to become involved. These personal estimates might be based on a variety of factors, perhaps including records of actual past financial periods. Legitimate bases for the estimates, however, should be verifiable.

But what happens when the past contracted third-party events (“what actually happened” tabulations) become mixed, or included in, one set of financial statements, which include corporate management’s extensive, perhaps biased, estimates of their “hoped for” corporate future? The “what actually happened” records (containing a few necessary estimates) no longer exist. Having only one mixed or combined set of past, present and future time period financial statements for each year obscures third-party actual transactions (e.g., who came first, second and third and by how much?). History is abandoned.

The concept of “current value accounting” can make sense for various specific purposes. But current values have to have some validity in the marketplace. Did other sales occur at these prices? When?

The reality is that many figures now incorporated into audited financial statements have largely been “pulled out of the air.” The dollars selected can easily cover up a disastrous year for a company when the dollars are combined into just one set of financial amounts (e.g., poor actual rental results, combined with management’s “fair value” estimates of buildings, and together called “profits”).

Proof of the above is everywhere, it seems. The cannabis sector is a prime example but there are others. Many major pension plans “value” their pension assets on what is called a “Level 3” valuation basis (i.e., no direct selling price data is available). Adding to the speculation is that many of the pension assets are “infrastructure” in nature, with cash flow returns often not expected for years ahead. Yet, pension holders are told that the fund’s expected liabilities are protected by these “valued” assets.

In summary, a “current value” reporting system is frequently used for audited financial statements in Canada, in the absence of reasonable verification of the dollars being chosen. Sales of infrastructure projects may be decades away. Cash flows expected are also estimates with wide variability. What is believable in this kind of market?

Canada’s current value reporting under IFRS is, in my opinion, similar to a Ponzi scheme. Money is being attracted to more than just pension plans, based on their alleged, audited reported investment successes. Companies listed on stock exchanges are paying high dividends (which help to increase stock prices) on their bloated, IFRS-based “income.”

IFRS is fundamentally extreme accrual accounting. Few cash market-tested transactions are required to be in place to limit or control “value” extremism in reporting. Profits can be accrued and recorded today but related cash may have to be reported, bit-by-bit, over the next 20 years, based on equipment performance, or similar. Meanwhile, the cash to operate the entity has to be borrowed. We have seen this management tactic growing rapidly over at least the past decade.

Contrary to the repeated assertions of the audit industry, IFRS is not a natural extension of old Canadian GAAP. It is virtually the exact opposite in serious and crucial ways and it is creating an investment market rife with Ponzi schemes.

The views and opinions expressed by contributing writers to Canadian Accountant are their own. Canadian Accountant and its parent company bear no responsibility for the accuracy and opinions of contributing writers.

Dr. Al Rosen, FCA, FCMA, FCPA, CFE, CIP and Mark Rosen, MBA, CFA, CFE, provide independent, forensic accounting investment research. They are the co-authors of Easy Prey Investors: Why Broken Safety Nets Threaten Your Wealth. Learn more at Accountability Research Corporation and Rosen & Associates Limited.

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Re: Accountants now “Breaking Bad”, Creating Synthetic Numbe

Postby admin » Tue Jul 02, 2019 11:57 am

KPMG staff embarrassed to work at the firm. Nearly a third of KPMG employees aren’t surprised by latest scandal. Does anyone take KPMG audit opinions seriously? Big audit firms have been mired in scandals for years and have done little to address matters.


~Prof. Emeritus Prem Sikka


[url]https://goingconcern.com/survey-finds-that-nearly-a-third-of-kpmg-employees-arent-surprised-by-latest-cheating-scandal/
[/url]
KPMG JUNE 28, 2019
Survey Finds That Nearly a Third of KPMG Employees Aren’t Surprised by Latest Cheating Scandal
by ADRIENNE GONZALEZ

In the competitive world of Big 4 recruiting, sometimes reputation is everything. Oh who are we kidding, the firms are all mostly the same — from work-life balance, pay, and even prestige — regardless of what PwC recruiters may tell you. At the end of the day, Big 4 firms are in a constant race to the middle amongst themselves to recruit top talent without sticking their necks out too far. Jeans Fridays? Sure. Radical vacation policies that staff are actually allowed to utilize? You must be trippin’.

So when one firm which already has the reputation of being the red-headed stepchild of the profession finds itself embroiled in yet another scandal, you have to wonder how its employees feel. Are they shocked? Embarrassed? Nonplussed by the whole thing?

Thankfully, Fishbowl asked its userbase this very question. Y’all should know what Fishbowl is by now, but if you don’t, basically the accounting board is what the Going Concern comment section was circa 2010-14 minus the fascist dictator mod (hey, what’s up?) and cat pictures.

In a June 13 survey, Fishbowl asked users one simple question: How does the $50 million SEC settlement scandal affect your perception of the firm?

The results are … surprising? Surprising in the sense that many had no opinion whatsoever. I know if our overlords at Accountingfly were in the news for cheating, I’d be pretty shocked and humiliated, so it speaks quite a bit to KPMG employees’ indifference that it was just another day for many of them.

Fishbowl survey of KPMG employees about SEC scandal

In case your chart-reading skills are rusty, here are the results:

29.8% of KPMG employees said the news confirms their perception of the company.
28.9% of KPMG employees said the news changes their perception of the company.
41.4% of KPMG employees said they have no opinion.

Looking at some of the chatter surrounding the survey, it’s clear that some folks in the “no opinion” camp didn’t think it was that big of a deal. After all, it’s old news. Thing is, $50 million isn’t just some light slap on the wrist for a momentary lapse in judgment. And a reasonable person might argue the behavior and subsequent fallout is in fact a symptom of a wider culture of corner-cutting and cheating that we’re now coming to expect from KPMG, what with that whole PCAOB scandal not too long ago.
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Re: Accountants now “Breaking Bad”, Creating Synthetic Numbe

Postby admin » Sun Jun 23, 2019 9:17 am

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-k ... b_0pKMMV4g

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The KPMG cheating scandal was much more widespread than originally thought

Record-tying $50 million fine was expected, but additional details cause experts to wonder if anything will actually change

A $50 million fine against KPMG LLP for its use of stolen regulatory information to cheat on audit inspections wasn’t a surprise: The Wall Street Journal warned last week that the Securities and Exchange Commission was ready to impose such a move, and the scandal had been known about for more than a year.

The record fine was a solid jab but no knockout punch. But then came a left hook out of nowhere.

The SEC revealed Monday a much larger scandal than was previously known: KPMG auditors, including some senior partners in charge of public company audits, cheated on internal tests related to mandatory ethics, integrity and compliance training, sharing answers with other partners and staff to help them also attain passing scores. In addition, for a period of time up to November 2015, some audit professionals, including one partner, manipulated the system for their exams to lower the scores required to pass.

Twenty-eight of these auditors did so on four or more occasions. Certain audit professionals lowered the required score to the point of passing exams while answering less than 25% of the questions correctly, the SEC says.

“The new test-cheating scandal suddenly seems more alarming than the ongoing PCAOB ‘steal the exam’ scandal because the unethical behavior went on longer and is potentially more widespread,” Matt Kelly, editor of the Radical Compliance newsletter and a longtime observer of corporate governance and compliance issues, told MarketWatch.

“There’s plenty of evidence of chronic, widespread and intentional illegal behavior by senior partners including some leading public company audits for the firm,” Kelly said. ”And yet, prosecutors can’t really impose criminal charges against the firm.”


Five former KPMG officials — including its former national managing partner for audit quality and professional practice — and one former PCAOB official were charged last year in a case that alleged they schemed to interfere with the PCAOB’s ability to detect audit deficiencies at KPMG. The SEC said the senior KPMG partners sought and obtained confidential PCAOB lists of inspection targets and then led a program to review and revise certain audit work papers after the audit reports had been issued in order to reduce the likelihood of deficiencies being found during inspections.

Three have pleaded guilty, two were found guilty and one is still pending trial.

The SEC’s order says KPMG must “cease and desist” violating the securities laws and is required to evaluate its quality controls relating to ethics and integrity and identify audit professionals that violated ethics and integrity requirements in connection with training examinations within the past three years. KPMG must also hire an independent consultant to review and assess the firm’s ethics and integrity controls and its investigation of the cheating scandal.

KPMG admitted the SEC’s allegations. Calls to KPMG for comment were not returned.

Largest SEC fine is small compared with other punishments
This latest fine ties the largest ever imposed by the SEC on an audit firm, but is dwarfed by other recent fines and settlements absorbed by audit firms with no hiccup.

In 2003, KPMG and five of its partners — including the head of the firm’s department of professional practice — paid a $22 million fine in connection with the 1997-2000 audits of Xerox Corp. XRX, -0.54% . That same month, the SEC announced that Deloitte & Touche LLP would pay $50 million — the largest fine the SEC had ever obtained from an audit firm at that time — to settle charges stemming from its year 2000 audit of Adelphia Communications Corp.

The Justice Department fined Deloitte $149.5 million in early 2018 for allegations of False Claims Act violations related to its audit of bankrupt mortgage issuer Taylor Bean & Whitaker, despite no criminal complaint filed. It’s one of the largest audit-related fines, settlements or damages awards ever against an audit firm but got very little media coverage.

In March, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation agreed to a $335 million settlement with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP for professional negligence claims it brought related to the audits of Colonial Bank which failed in 2009. The settlement came after a federal judge held PwC liable for professional negligence for its audit of Colonial Bank after a bench trial and on July 2, 2018, awarded damages of $625 million to the FDIC for its losses. PwC had said it planned to appeal the verdict.

See also: The auditor of Citi, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank was tipped off before regulatory inspection

Jim Peterson, a former attorney for defunct global audit firm Arthur Andersen in Europe and author of “Count Down: The Past, Present and Uncertain Future of the Big Four Accounting Firms,” told MarketWatch: “It’s overdue to get the discussion of financial fragility of the global audit firms on the table. There’s no point in talking about a larger penalty. If you made it $1 billion likely KPMG could not raise the money from its own network or outside sources. Between the two violations, and at the scale of $50 million, it seems we are in ‘too vital to kill’ territory.”

The test cheating related to a variety of subjects relevant to the professionals’ audit practices, including additional training required by a 2017 SEC enforcement action that charged KPMG with engaging in improper professional conduct in the audit of the financial statements of an oil and gas client that caused reporting violations. As part of the settlement, the SEC ordered KPMG to ensure its audit staff complete specific training programs in various technical accounting areas and to cough up the audit fees it earned plus interest of $5.1 million.

Will the penalty even matter?
MarketWatch asked SEC officials on a media call if there were any more details on investigations of the impact of both scandals on the audits of public companies. An SEC official would not provide any details about ongoing investigations but instead directed those on the call to SEC chairman Jay Clayton’s statements to the public when the “steal the exam” scandal broke in January 2018.

“Based on discussions with the SEC staff,” Clayton wrote at the time, “I do not believe that today’s actions against these six individuals will adversely affect the ability of SEC registrants to continue to use audit reports issued by KPMG in filings with the Commission or for investors to rely upon those required reports.”

Read: KPMG indictment suggests many who weren’t charged knew regulator data was stolen

“The more details that emerge, the more difficult it is to keep believing Jay Clayton’s early statements that investors have nothing to worry about,” said Kelly. “The SEC has provided no details about its investigation of actual impact on issuers, so it strains credulity to think that this egregious behavior wouldn’t affect audit quality somehow.”

“The conduct outlined in the order is so egregious, detailing a culture which is completely unmoored from any ethical foundation, that any company using KPMG as an auditor must ask some very serious questions about not only the quality of the services they have received but also the very foundation of those services,” Tom Fox, an attorney and independent consultant who assists companies with anticorruption and antibribery compliance, wrote on his blog.

“If these partners and staff are willing to lie, cheat and steal to defy the PCAOB and the SEC, what must they be willing to do to please clients and generate more profits?”
Fox told MarketWatch in an interview.

Read also: KPMG won BBVA audit with stolen data about rival’s inspections

For more: KPMG turned to Palantir to help predict which audits would be inspected

In the 2017 case, KPMG also violated Sections 4C and 21C of the federal securities laws, which means they did not possess “the requisite qualifications to represent others,” and were “lacking in character or integrity, or to have engaged in unethical or improper professional conduct” and “willfully violated, or willfully aided and abetted the violation of, any provision of the securities laws or the rules and regulations.”

However, in 2014 the SEC had also ordered KPMG to “cease-and-desist” violating the same securities laws it said it violated in 2017 and that the firm violated again in Monday’s order, Sections 4C and 21C of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

In the 2014 case, the firm also violated Rule 102(e), which requires auditor independence. For that it was fined $8.2 million, and also ordered, as in 2017 and in Monday’s order, to hire an independent consultant and conduct a review of its weaknesses, including developing new policies and procedures and training to address staff knowledge deficiencies.

KPMG also received an SEC censure each time.

Peterson told MarketWatch that we’ve perhaps run out of effective penalties for the global audit firms.

“If you can’t take penalty steps that include a criminal indictment or a financial penalty that is truly a deterrent, you have consider imposing a forced change in firm leadership. Can the SEC force out an audit firm CEO? Would they?”
asked Peterson.

MORE FROM MARKETWATCH

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Re: Accountants now “Breaking Bad”, Creating Synthetic Numbe

Postby admin » Mon Jun 17, 2019 6:52 pm

KPMG Paying $50 Million Penalty for Illicit Use of PCAOB Data and Cheating on Training Exams

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Press Release
KPMG Paying $50 Million Penalty for Illicit Use of PCAOB Data and Cheating on Training Exams
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2019-95

Washington D.C., June 17, 2019 —

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged KPMG LLP with altering past audit work after receiving stolen information about inspections of the firm that would be conducted by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB). The SEC’s order also finds that numerous KPMG audit professionals cheated on internal training exams by improperly sharing answers and manipulating test results.

KPMG agreed to settle the charges by paying a $50 million penalty and complying with a detailed set of undertakings, including retaining an independent consultant to review and assess the firm’s ethics and integrity controls and its compliance with various undertakings.

“High-quality financial statements prepared and reviewed in accordance with applicable accounting principles and professional standards are the bedrock of our capital markets. KPMG’s ethical failures are simply unacceptable,” said SEC Chairman Jay Clayton. “The resolution the Enforcement Division has reached holds KPMG accountable for its past failures and provides for continuing, heightened oversight to protect our markets and our investors.”

“The breadth and seriousness of the misconduct at issue here is, frankly, astonishing,” said Steven Peikin, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. “This settlement reflects the need to severely punish this sort of wrongdoing while putting in place measures designed to prevent its recurrence.”

“This conduct was particularly troubling because of the unique position of trust that audit professionals hold,” said Stephanie Avakian, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. “Investors and other market professionals rely on these gatekeepers to fulfill a critical role in our capital markets.”

Five former KPMG officials were charged last year in a case alleging they schemed to interfere with the PCAOB’s ability to detect audit deficiencies at KPMG. According to the SEC’s order issued today against KPMG, these senior personnel sought and obtained confidential PCAOB lists of inspection targets because the firm had experienced a high rate of audit deficiency findings in prior inspections and improvement had become a priority. Armed with the PCAOB data, the now-former KPMG personnel oversaw a program to review and revise certain audit work papers after the audit reports had been issued to reduce the likelihood of deficiencies being found during inspections.

The SEC’s order also finds that KPMG audit professionals who had passed training exams sent their answers to colleagues to help them also attain passing scores. The exams related to continuing professional education and training mandated by a prior SEC order finding audit failures. They sent images of their answers by email or printed answers and gave them to colleagues. This included lead audit engagement partners who not only sent exam answers to other partners, but also solicited answers from and sent answers to their subordinates.

Furthermore, the SEC’s order finds that certain KPMG audit professionals manipulated an internal server hosting training exams to lower the score required for passing. By changing a number embedded in a hyperlink, they manually selected the minimum passing scores required for exams. At times, audit professionals achieved passing scores while answering less than 25 percent of the questions correctly.

“The sanctions will protect our markets by promoting an ethical culture at KPMG,” said Melissa Hodgman, Associate Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. “To that end, KPMG will take additional remedial steps to address the misconduct and further strengthen its quality controls, all of which will be reviewed and assessed by an independent consultant.”

In addition to paying a $50 million penalty, KPMG is required to evaluate its quality controls relating to ethics and integrity, identify audit professionals that violated ethics and integrity requirements in connection with training examinations within the past three years, and comply with a cease-and-desist order. The SEC’s order requires KPMG to retain an independent consultant to review and assess the firm’s ethics and integrity controls and its investigation.

KPMG has admitted the facts in the SEC’s order. It has also acknowledged that its conduct violated a PCAOB rule requiring the firm to maintain integrity in the performance of a professional service and provides a basis for the SEC to impose remedies against the firm pursuant to Sections 4C(a)(2) and (a)(3) of the Exchange Act and Rules 102(e)(1)(ii) and (iii) of the Commission’s Rules of Practice.

The SEC’s investigation, which is continuing, has been conducted by Ian Rupell and Paul Gunson and supervised by Rami Sibay.
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Re: Accountants now “Breaking Bad”, Creating Synthetic Numbe

Postby admin » Mon Jun 17, 2019 3:13 pm

https://www.wsj.com/articles/kpmg-to-pa ... icpcF6KLKE

Screen Shot 2019-06-17 at 4.12.28 PM.png


MARKETS
KPMG to Pay as Much as $50 Million to Settle SEC Probe
Fine, stemming from a leak at an audit regulator, would be one of the highest ever imposed by the SEC on an auditor
By Dave Michaels
June 13, 2019
WASHINGTON—
KPMG LLP is preparing to pay as much as $50 million to settle civil claims related to the conduct of former partners who learned which of their audits would be subject to surprise regulatory examinations, according to people familiar with the matter.


Full story here:
https://www.wsj.com/articles/kpmg-to-pa ... icpcF6KLKE
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