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  • Warren, Wyden urge PCAOB to crack down on crypto auditors

    Federal Issues

    On January 25, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to the chair of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) urging the board to make sure it was taking sufficient measures to hold registered audit firms accountable for their work with cryptocurrency clients. The letter highlighted the recent turmoil in the crypto market following the collapse of a major crypto exchange last November, and inquired about “the role that auditors may have played in misleading the public about the financial soundness and safety of crypto companies.” Referring to reports of “scandalous accounting practices” within the industry, the senators urged the PCAOB to take action to ensure accountability. “When PCAOB-registered auditors perform sham audits—even for firms that may lay outside of the PCAOB’s jurisdiction—they tarnish the credibility of the PCAOB and undermine confidence in the PCAOB-registered auditors that investors and the public rely on when making investment decisions,” the senators wrote, adding that “misleading financial reports shake our confidence in the entire auditing industry.”

    The senators asked the PCAOB to respond to several questions concerning alleged misleading auditing practices related to the exchange’s collapse, including whether the PCAOB is taking steps to mitigate risks facing retail investors, whether it was aware of any potential conflicts of interest or other concerning behavior, and whether it has “the authority to strip auditors of their PCAOB-registered status if they provide services or engage in conduct that fall short of PCAOB standards and rules, even if those actions are taken in relation to private, non-SEC registered companies.” The senators also asked the PCAOB to describe the standards that auditors must comply with “when evaluating the risk of exposure to crypto firms or validating the valuation of crypto investments.”

    Federal Issues Digital Assets U.S. Senate Audit Cryptocurrency PCAOB

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  • SEC orders global accounting firm’s Chinese affiliate to pay $20 million for auditing failures


    On September 29, the SEC issued a cease and desist order against the Chinese affiliate of a global accounting firm for allegedly failing to comply with U.S. professional auditing requirements when conducting component audits of U.S. issuers and auditing foreign companies listed on U.S. exchanges. According to the SEC, during the course of numerous audits, personnel at the Chinese affiliate allegedly, among other things, asked clients to choose their own samples for testing and complete required audit documentation purportedly showing that the Chinese affiliate had obtained and assessed supporting evidence for certain clients’ accounting entries. This was allegedly done in order to create the illusion that the required testing of clients’ financial statements and internal controls had been conducted when there was allegedly no evidence that it had in fact happened. The SEC noted that the alleged misconduct involved both junior and senior audit team members and demonstrated a lack of supervision by audit partners. Moreover, the Chinese affiliate’s alleged failure to follow required Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) auditing standards created a significant threat to U.S. investors.

    “While the SEC’s action today does not implicate a violation of the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, the action does underscore the need for the [PCAOB] to be able to inspect Chinese audit firms,” SEC Chair Gary Gensler said in the announcement. “A fundamental goal of the PCAOB’s inspection regime is to identify weaknesses in the firms’ quality control processes—the very weaknesses at issue in this case.”

    Without admitting or denying the allegations, the Chinese affiliate agreed to settle the charges by paying a $20 million civil money penalty and implementing extensive remedial measures, including completing a review and assessment of its policies and procedures by an independent consultant and implementing a course of action to address identified deficiencies. Audit professionals at the Chinese affiliate who serve U.S. public company audit clients are also required to undertake additional training.

    Securities SEC China Audit Enforcement Of Interest to Non-US Persons PCAOB

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  • SEC warns Chinese companies against switching auditors to avoid compliance


    On September 6, SEC acting Chief Accountant Paul Munter issued a warning to Chinese companies that they may face enforcement actions if they switch auditing firms to remain listed in the U.S. that do not follow applicable standards. Munter pointed to instances of foreign issuers, especially those located in China or Hong Kong, “changing their lead auditor from a local registered public accounting firm to a registered public accounting firm located either in the U.S. or elsewhere, generally within the same network.” According to Munter, these types of arrangements create “special challenges that raise questions about whether the newly engaged registered public accounting firms—whether located in the U.S. or elsewhere—will be able to satisfy their responsibilities to serve as the lead auditor.” Munter noted that the U.S. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), the China Securities Regulatory Commission, and the Ministry of Finance of the People’s Republic of China, recently signed a Statement of Protocol governing inspections and investigations of audit firms based in China or Hong Kong. He said, however, that certain issuers based in China and Hong Kong have started structuring audits with registered public accounting firms located either in the U.S. or elsewhere “to avoid the potential of consecutive PCAOB [Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act] determinations and a potential resultant trading prohibition.” Issuers and firms looking to avoid compliance could result in investigations and enforcement actions by the PCAOB, the SEC, or both.

    Securities Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Financial Crimes China Audit

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