Remember when auditors were, by their very definition, supposed to be the embodiment of credibility, trustworthiness and moral fiber? The Brazilian arm of Big Four auditing giant, Deloitte, forgot these simple prerequisites and as a result the US auditing watchdog fined the firm a record $8 million for what amounts to massive fraud: falsifying audit reports, altering documents and providing false testimony during an investigation that unearthed what it described as its “most serious” finding of misconduct.
The US Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, or PCAOB, also penalized or barred 12 former partners, including a national practice director, and auditors of the Brazil-based Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Auditores Independentes.
The Deloitte Brazil case is the first time the PCAOB has "charged a member of the Big Four auditing firms with fraud and for failing to co-operate with an investigation" according to the FT. Worse, unlike banks which resolve similar cases without admitting or denying guilt, in settling, Deloitte Brazil admitted it had violated quality control standards and failed to co-operate with the auditing board’s inspection and subsequent investigation.
“This is the most serious misconduct we’ve uncovered. It’s cover-up after cover-up after cover-up,” Claudius Modesti, director of enforcement at the PCAOB, said. “As an investor you’re expecting that the audit was done properly and sufficiently and that wasn’t the case here.”
Not only was that not the case, but the details read like straight out of a fictional account of third-world crime.
As the FT details, the PCAOB alleges Deloitte knew that its client, low-cost airline Gol Linhas Aéreas Inteligentes, did not have enough evidence to support “a potentially material amount of the maintenance deposits” that it was reporting. Deloitte’s senior auditors also knew the books were being reviewed for potential material misstatements when it released its audit report and signed off on the accuracy of the financial statements.
In 2012, PCAOB inspectors looked at the Gol audits during their review of Deloitte Brazil. The engagement partner for the Gol account allegedly instructed his team to alter the work papers, according to the settlement. The partner also told his staff to alter the work papers for another client whose audit was also under review, the PCAOB alleged.
The auditing watchdog later opened an investigation and alleges that this was further obstructed by the Deloitte auditors who provided the altered work papers to regulators. Senior Deloitte auditors falsely testified under oath that the altered work papers were the original documents, according to the settlement.
Investigators compared documents and realised something had changed. “The documentation that they had generated during the audit had changed so that our inspectors wouldn’t be able to identify, for example, the significance of these maintenance deposit deficiencies,” said Mr Modesti.
After Deloitte conducted its own internal investigation when regulators brought concerns about altered documents, it found 70 altered work papers related to the Gol audits. PCAOB said senior leaders of the firm also obstructed investigators when they sought to look into the second client.
In January, a senior manager who worked on the Gol audit gave PCAOB investigators recordings taken on his mobile phone of conversations he had had with a senior partner. In one of those recordings, made in 2014 amid the enforcement investigation, the senior partner told the manager, “any evidence that you have of this, remove it from your machine. Keep it in a — if you have that, keep it somewhere else, but not in your machine, not in the office. OK?”
“Everything you told me, everything we discussed, never happened,” the senior partner added.
In an attempt to save face after this "massive fraud" was uncovered, Deloitte tried to cast it off as a one-time event, the result of a few corrupt individuals, and said: “Integrity in delivering high-quality services is critical to our business, our clients and the public interest; it is non-negotiable.” It added that the actions of “a limited number” of individuals was “wholly unacceptable”. And yet, all but one of the former partners and auditors have been banned from working for companies and broker dealers that fall under the PCAOB’s oversight.
In addition to the fine, which is the largest that the PCAOB has ever obtained, Deloitte agreed to an independent monitor and is banned from accepting new audit clients in Brazil until the firm meets remedial benchmarks.
One wonders if Deloitte was caught with one such brazenly egregious case, just what else is there that goes unreported, and undiscovered when it comes to corporate "books", not only in Brazil but also in the US.