An ugly lawsuit filed by Mobile Monitor Technologies LLC against PwC and HP could be an excellent example of what Monadnock’s Mark O’Connor referred to in a recent post here: Advisory work that auditors perform can present an untenable conflict in performing their primary role, and public duty to the capital markets, as auditors.
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The AgFeed case is the mother lode for an SEC that says it’s ready to rack up some accounting fraud enforcement points and, perhaps, pursue a more aggressive enforcement approach to sparsely utilized Sarbanes-Oxley provisions like Section 304, clawbacks.
Exclusive From Monadnock Research: Big Four Fiscal 2013 Advisory Practice Rankings and Conflict Risk MetricsBy Francine • Mar 18th, 2014
This Monadnock Research Note offers an in-depth analysis of organic growth and strategic M&A in non-audit services for the Big Four audit firms, highlighting the growing risks associated with an increasing proportion of advisory relative to audit services at Big Four firms – and the conflict risk that this unique mix of services presents.
Company executives and directors like to believe they can purchase a posse of “trusted advisors”. Instead, they’ve often only bought a gaggle of self-interested auditors, lawyers, and consultants. But to whom does each of those vendors owe loyalty?
AgFeed had the benefit of two PCAOB registered and inspected audit firms. There is no indication on either the SEC or PCAOB website of an investigation of either for what happened at AgFeed. Is this one going to end badly, too, like the Gately case?
It is highly unusual for a board member, especially an audit committee member, to be a fraud whistleblower for a public company. Milton Webster, a former AgFeed director, did it but he, unfortunately, won’t be around to see the result of his significant social and professional sacrifice.
PwC is scheduled to go to trial for malpractice related to the bankruptcy of SemGroup in August, almost six years later. The SemGroup Litigation Trust, pursuing claims on behalf of the company and its creditors, alleges PwC did a terrible audit. But it’s worse than just lousy auditing, especially if a trial exposes the truth of PwC’s disingenuous defenses.
Imagine my surprise when Ben Horowitz, one half of the venture capital team of Andreessen Horowitz, wrote a blog post about dodging a stock option backdating jail term that also implicates PwC.
SEC Administrative Judge Cameron Elliot issued a blistering decision last week in a long-running dispute over regulator access to auditor work papers in fraud investigations. The judge banned the Chinese Big Four firms from auditing US issuers for six months and lambasted them for voluntarily putting their firms “between a rock and a hard place.” The decision is not yet final but the enormous impact is already being felt worldwide.
Who has the last word on audit quality and compliance with GAAP and SEC filing requirements for US-listed foreign companies? If you were hoping it was the US audit firm, you’ll have to prove your case in court.