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ICAI may push Price Waterhouse into blacklist
July, 13th 2009

The countrys accounting regulator is planning strict action against audit firm Price Waterhouse after two of its partners allegedly failed to check accounting lapses and verify financial statements in the over Rs 7,000 crore Satyam fraud case.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India could likely consider recommending blacklisting of Price Waterhouse, which would bar the global audit firm from carrying out auditing in India. As the institute can only recommend, its decision can be challenged in court. The institute may state its decision by the month end, say people familiar with the development.

Such a move would be similar to the temporary suspension of a Japanese audit firm affiliated with PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2006, on charges of tampering with a clients accounts. In its independent probe into the Satyam fraud case, the ICAI, which is the nodal body for accountants and auditors in the country, has found the two auditors, Subramani Gopalakrishnan and Srinivas Talluri, were not carrying out adequate due diligence while auditing the books of the software major.

The two auditors are in jail awaiting trial for allegedly being involved with former Satyam chairman B Ramalinga Raju and his team in perpetrating the over Rs 7,000-crore fraud. In a report submitted by the institutes committee, the accounting body is learnt to have cleared the two auditors of the other charges of misrepresentation and of taking large auditing fees.

ICAI president Uttam Prakash Agarwal, who is part of the two-member committee that probed the audit lapses, didnt comment on the development. A spokesperson for PricewaterhouseCoopers, the parent body for audit firm Price Waterhouse said they had not received any communication from ICAI.

We have neither received a copy of the high-powered committee report of the ICAI nor has the committee sought or received any comment or information from Price Waterhouse regarding the audit of Satyam during its inquiry.

Interestingly, the timing of the report, which was finalised late on Friday, will coincide with the visit of an investigating team from the United States securities and exchange commission team that is scheduled in India, on Monday. Satyam Computer, now called Mahindra Satyam, is an SEC-registered company.

The fraud, which encompassed many aspects including banking, debtor information and HR issues, was, at its core, related to forged bank documents. It is widely speculated that the former Satyam management kept money in a current account and showed it as fixed assets instead of bank balance by creating false receipts. This is one of the aspects being looked into by the CBI.

While the CBI will eventually come out with a detailed report, people familiar with the development have said that all investigations have indicated a failure in verifying Satyams fixed deposit receipts and bank statements; a job which is under the purview of the two auditors. Apart from the CBI and the ICAI, the fraud is also being investigated by SEC and market regulator SEBI.

Price Waterhouse also said that it has seen no evidence from any source that indicates that the two Price Waterhouse audit partners who worked on the Satyam audit, were complicit in or otherwise aware of the Satyam fraud. The global audit and consulting body declined to elaborate on charges regarding misrepresentations.

Since ICAI regulations prohibit foreign firms from using their own names in India, most global firms operate through local firms. According to Indian auditing circles, the PricewaterhouseCoopers audit network consists of 10 firms, three Price Waterhouse firms, four firms named Price Waterhouse & Co, two Dalal & Shah firms and one firm called Lovelock & Lewes. Each firm is a separate partnership firm with a maximum of 20 partners each. Each firm has a head office and branch offices.

Price Waterhouse, Bangalore, was the firm that audited the Satyam account. This firm had branch offices in several cities including Hyderabad, where the fraud was discovered. The two auditors were partners of Price Waterhouse, Bangalore.

On the matter of large fees, the institute is of the view that it depends on an agreement between the company and its auditors and is based on the nature of the services rendered.

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