Posted by Monika Lipowska-Flis.
In article “PWC Lawsuit Tests Whether Auditors Must Guarantee Against Fraud,” the trial will determine if the one of the big four companies will survive or vanish from the market. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) is being sued by Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for 2.5 billion in losses suffered from collapse of Colonial Bank. According to the lawsuit, the fraud was perpetrated by the former chairman of Taylor Bean & Whitaker, the biggest mortgage customer of Colonial bank, and also by top executives from the bank. As we read in the article, the fraud was undetected by PWC, internal auditors, state and federal banking regulators and also by a forensic audit accounting company.
PWC defense is using pari delicto doctrine. It is “a descriptive phrase that indicates that parties involved in an action are equally culpable for a wrong. When the parties to a legal controversy are in pari delicto, neither can obtain affirmative relief from the court, since both are at equal fault or of equal guilt. They will remain in the same situation they were in prior to the commencement of the action.” PCW is also arguing Alabama’s “contributory negligence,” stating that Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was also negligent in discovering the fraud at Colonial Bank. “The failure of the bank had nothing to do with auditing or accounting,” according to legal counsel representing PCW. “The bank had its own failed strategies that over time caused it to suffer and fall apart.”
Judge Rothenstein’s position is that PCW had the opportunity and means to detect the fraud if they properly conduct the audit they were hired to do. All defenses submitted by the audit company has been rejected by the judge, stating that they were negligent and responsible for bankruptcy of the bank.
Under SAS No. 99, “The auditor has a responsibility to plan and perform the audit to obtain reasonable assurance about whether the financial statements are free of material misstatement, whether caused by error or fraud.” This new standard provides guidelines how to design the audit and assess risk of fraud that could occur. Exercising personal skepticism by the auditor is the most important factor. There were red flags observed during various audits and all of them were ignored and not considered by PWC personnel.
Detecting fraud is very hard because the higher-up executives are usually involved and they have the means to override internal controls and hide it successfully. Knowing this, the auditor should keep open mind and if any irregularities uncovered they should be investigated thoroughly. Due diligence is the best defense to every audit firm from being sued for not detecting fraud during audit. It is the company’s responsibility to design sufficient internal controls that will prevent the fraud in the first place. PWC if found guilty will follow steps of Arthur Anderson who went bankrupt after Enron scandal.
The money lost will not be recovered and lives of thousands of people damaged never repaired.
Definition for Pari Delicto: