In a statement Friday, China’s Finance Ministry announced it imposed an unprecedented fine of 212 million yuan ($30.8 million) on accounting firm Deloitte, for performing its audit of bad-debt manager China Huarong negligently. Bad debt managers purchase distressed loans from banks.
According to the finance ministry, after performing several inspections, staff interviews, and doing a paperwork review, it was found that Deloitte, a Big-Four accounting giant, failed to accurately assess the condition of Huarong’s underlying assets, and to objectively assess its business operations between 2014 and 2019. The ministry also noted that Huarong had experienced several internal risk and control failures during that period.
The statement said, “During the period when it offered auditing services [to Huarong], [Deloitte] did not maintain [a] professional skeptical attitude, did not effectively conduct essential auditing procedures, did not obtain sufficient and adequate auditing evidence and had severe auditing flaws.”
The ministry also suspended the licenses of two certified Deloitte accountants, and forced a halt to all operations at Deloitte’s Beijing branch for three months.
Huarong, one of the largest bad-debt managers in the nation, as well as its seven subsidiaries were fined 100,000 yuan each for internal governance and risk-control failures, as well as producing “severely distorted” accounting data.
Deloitte did not admit or deny any culpability, but in a statement noted it respected the ministry’s decision.
The firm’s statement said, “To be clear, there is no suggestion by the [ministry] that either Deloitte Hua Yong, its Beijing branch, or any of its people have done anything unethical. We respect and accept the [ministry’s] penalty decision. We regret that, in this matter, the [ministry] considers certain aspects of our work fell below the required auditing standards.”
A recent Bloomberg report noted that Beijing has been encouraging state-owned companies to cease using the Big-Four accounting firms for audits, and instead to use Chinese accounting firms, to bolster the nation’s data-security, and reduce its usage of foreign firms.