Deloitte’s Chinese Affiliate to Pay $20 Million Penalty for Asking Audit Clients to Conduct Their Own Audit Work

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Washington, D.C.–(Newsfile Corp. – September 29, 2022) – The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Certified Public Accountants LLP (Deloitte-China), the Chinese affiliate of the Deloitte global network of accounting firms, with failing to comply with fundamental U.S. auditing requirements in its component audits of U.S. issuers and its audits of foreign companies listed on U.S. exchanges. Deloitte-China agreed to settle the charges by paying a $20 million penalty and agreeing to extensive remedial measures.

The SEC order finds that, in the course of numerous audits over multiple years, Deloitte-China personnel asked clients to select their own samples for testing and to prepare audit documentation purporting to show that Deloitte-China had obtained and assessed the supporting evidence for certain clients’ accounting entries. This created the appearance that Deloitte-China had conducted the required testing of clients’ financial statements and internal controls when there was no evidence in the audit file that it had in fact done so.

“We find that Deloitte-China fell woefully short of professional auditing requirements in numerous component audits of Chinese operations of U.S. issuers and audits of Chinese companies listed on U.S. exchanges,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler. “These basic, foundational auditing requirements are necessary to instill trust in our capital markets. It’s a privilege for issuers to access our markets — the largest, deepest, most liquid markets in the world. Investors in U.S. markets should be protected — and have trust in a company’s financial numbers — regardless of whether an issuer is foreign or domestic.”

“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 Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) to be able to inspect Chinese audit firms,” Chair Gensler added. “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.”

“This action involves audit failures at the most basic level. Across multiple years and audit engagements, Deloitte-China auditors failed to meet professional standards, exercise independence and fulfill their essential role as gatekeepers,” said Gurbir S. Grewal, Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. “Auditors are vital to the success of our financial markets and the standards they must abide by are neither optional, nor are they aspirational best practices. Rather, they’re foundational to audit quality and investor protection, and every audit firm that conducts audits for issuers with securities trading on U.S. exchanges must meet them. Here, Deloitte-China audit professionals fell woefully short.”

The order finds that the misconduct involved both junior and senior audit team members and reflected a lack of audit supervision by audit partners. The order also finds that Deloitte-China failed to adhere to numerous PCAOB auditing standards, including due professional care of audit evidence, sampling, documentation, internal control over financial reporting, audit supervision, and quality control.

“Accounting firms are critical gatekeepers of our disclosure program, and, when they abdicate their responsibilities as independent auditors, it threatens the health of our U.S. financial markets,” said Melissa R. Hodgman, Associate Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. “The Division of Enforcement will aggressively pursue all PCAOB-registered accounting firms that fail to truthfully perform their roles.”

In addition to the financial penalty, the order censures Deloitte-China and requires the firm to complete a review and assessment of its policies and procedures by an independent consultant retained by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (“Deloitte-Global”), a U.K. entity with which it is indirectly affiliated. The order further requires Deloitte-China to implement a plan to address deficiencies identified by the independent consultant that is approved and overseen by Deloitte-Global, and to subsequently undergo several additional annual reviews. The order also requires Deloitte-China to require additional training over three years for all of its audit professionals who serve U.S. public company audit clients.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by John Archfield, Jonathan Jacobs, W. Bradley Ney, and Ian Rupell. It was supervised by Rami Sibay.