Arthur Andersen accuses Andersen Tax of forgery
The French company that claims to hold the trademarks of the former Big Five accounting firm Arthur Andersen & Co. sent Accounting Today a copy Friday of the lawsuit it filed against Andersen Tax over the rights to the Andersen brand, alleging the use of forged documents and an attempt to obtain court rulings using forgeries.
The global managing partner of Arthur Andersen, Stéphane Laffont-Réveilhac, announced the lawsuit in a press release posted on LinkedIn earlier this month (see Arthur Andersen sues Andersen Tax). “Andersen Tax LLC directors has openly cheated and lied, to the detriment of the public, some Judges, the Arthur Andersen’s alumni, their own employees and affiliated members. Such conducts are offensive and inexcusable,” he wrote. “That’s the opposite of our values. What we are facing will only make our network stronger. We are fighting this situation united with our Members, with courage, humbleness and determination. We are free and most of all proud of the work we are doing in order to regain the excellence of Arthur Andersen worldwide. We are continuing our relentless efforts to rebuild the network and defend its historical values.”
However, Andersen Tax CEO Mark Vorsatz told Accounting Today two days after the announcement his firm had not seen any lawsuit yet. The lawsuit that was emailed by the French firm on Friday alleges that Andersen Tax wrote and produced forged documents signed by Vorsatz to support its submissions in a Paris court and includes exhibits showing handwriting comparisons between various legal documents.
Andersen Tax managing director and associate counsel Oscar Alcantara said Friday that his firm had still not been formally served with the lawsuit. "Regarding the purported Criminal Complaint: We have, as of yet, not been served with any relevant papers and have seen no evidence that that a criminal action has in fact yet been initiated in France or elsewhere," he told Accounting Today by email.
The two firms have been publicly battling over the Andersen name ever since Laffont-Réveilhac announced in March that he had reconstituted Arthur Andersen in 16 countries, including the United States (see Firms vie over rights to Arthur Andersen name). But the legal battle has been going on since 2014, according to the lawsuit. Andersen Tax has filed legal actions against the Paris-based firm and won legal settlements this year in the U.S., India and Brazil in which several local firms agreed to stop using the Andersen name, prompting the French firm to focus its growth plans on Europe (see ‘Reconstituted’ Arthur Andersen closes U.S. offices amid trademark infringement suit).
After the original Andersen collapsed in the wake of the accounting scandals of the early 2000s involving clients such as Enron and WorldCom, Vorzatz and 22 other former Andersen partners established a firm called WTAS (short for Wealth and Tax Advisory Services) in 2002. They renamed Andersen Tax after the partners acquired the rights to the Andersen brand in 2014 and expanded the firm abroad. It now has 64 locations in 20 countries as part of its Andersen Global network, with plans to expand to the Middle East.
In the lawsuit, Arthur Andersen claims that Andersen Tax was “forced to change its name” in September 2014 after a German company called WTS claimed the rights to the WTAS trademark. The lawsuit claims Laffont-Réveilhac and his partner, Véronique Martinez, a former employee of the original Arthur Andersen, began their efforts to revive the original trademark in July 2013, registering 30 trademark applications, “mainly between July 2013 and October 2014.” They formed a company called SAS Quatre Juillet Maison Blanche (French for “Fourth of July White House”) in February 2014 to promote the brand and project, according to the lawsuit, and to hold the trademarks and license agreements. The lawsuit says they learned in September 2014 that Andersen Tax had also laid claim to the trademark.
Vorsatz and Alcantara have pointed out that Andersen Tax legally acquired the trademarks, copyrights and intellectual property rights to the Andersen brand from Arthur Andersen LLP and Andersen Worldwide, and former Andersen CEOs and managing partners have backed them up.
In the lawsuit, the French firm claimed that Andersen Tax acquired the trademarks from a company called SAW IP NA NV that was formed under the laws of Curacao and was liquidated in November 2010, “without any assets at the time of its liquidation.” When Andersen Tax filed suit in Paris against the French firm, it included a contract of transfer dated January 2016, according to the lawsuit, and it was on a single page without any mention of the price or object of the transfer. The lawsuit also claims Vorsatz signed several deeds, contracts and licensing agreements, pointing to discrepancies between the signatures on the English and French translations of some of the documents. The lawsuit names a translator, who told the French firm that a version of one of the documents sent to the Paris court was “incomplete and clearly reveals hidden elements,” and did not correspond to the one that was delivered to a lawyer in Lille, France.
Vorsatz disputed the lawsuit’s claims of forgery. “I signed all of the agreements,” he said in an email to Accounting Today. He pointed out that most of the firms that the French company claimed to have signed up have backed out of the arrangement or “have no legal ability to function in those jurisdictions (because of our legal actions) or they have independently determined that this was not what it had been misrepresented to be.”
Vorsatz pointed out that the French firm canceled a press conference that it had announced would be held in New York in March 15 to defend its claims. “We filed our U.S. lawsuit on March 13 and the jig was up,” he said.
In the email message accompanying the lawsuit, the French firm said it planned to forward the criminal complaint to prosecutors in New York and elsewhere. “A general criminal complaint, on the other facts of which we are also victims, will be addressed shortly to the Paris Prosecutor and forwarded to the Prosecutors in New York as well as in India, Brazil, Switzerland and Curaçao,” said the firm.
“They can make whatever allegations that they choose,” said Vorsatz. “I prefer to stick to the facts: We have permanent injunctions in U.S., India, and Brazil—all within 10 weeks. We are pursuing actions to enforce our rights in all 97 countries where we control the trademark.”
Laffont-Réveilhac disputed Vorsatz's claim. "Contrary to what Mr Vorsatz asserts, Andersen Tax has never obtained any decision either in the USA or in Brazil. That's one more lie," he said in an email Monday to Accounting Today. "The procedure in the US is underway and the US judge, whom I spoke to on the phone a few days ago, is very interested in receiving evidence of Andersen Tax's fraud and deferred hearing in early September. (FYI, in the US, the procedure at the USPTO is still pending). In Brazil, there has been absolutely no legal process. Only the harassment of our members allowed Mr. Vorstaz to obtain an agreement from our member to refrain from continuing with us. In India, Andersen Tax obtained a first injunction (not a decision), but we were warned the day before the hearing and we were not in the cause. And this injunction was based on trunked and forged documents (this is part of the next criminal procedure that we will engage shortly). It is the result of particularly unfair, hostile and aggressive maneuvers. The procedure is now joined to another against a second member of our network in this country. The hearing is next week. Given the seriousness and extent of the fraud organized by Mr. Vorsatz and Alcantara worldwide, we reserve our communication with the judges and prosecutors in the various countries concerned. Lawyers and liquidators will also be affected by this next complaint. Within a few days, a new general criminal complaint with other blatant evidences of the fraudulent actions by Andersen Tax and their representatives will be transmitted to the judges and prosecutors concerned. We will keep you informed of the outcome of this case. We are very serene and not at all desperate because we trust in justice."
Alcantara and Vorsatz disagreed Monday with Laffont-Réveilhac. "To the best of our knowledge, no court or prosecutor has issued any indictment," said Vorsatz.
"The purported criminal complaint being distributed by the French entity has not been served on any purported defendant, and to our knowledge, it has not yet been filed in any court, and has certainly not been initiated by any prosecutor," said Alcantara.
He insisted Andersen Tax has prevailed in the U.S. and Brazil. "We have a permanent judgment against the infringing U.S. member of the French network in the U.S.," said Alcantara. "After filing an opposition action in the Brazilian INPI [Instituto Nacional da Propriedade Industrial, Brazil's National Industrial Property Institute, or patent office], we obtained a signed settlement agreement with the infringing Brazilian member of the French network, which required the firm to withdraw its infringing trademark applications. The withdrawal of applications in response to our legal action operates like an adjudication of the opposition in our favor."
Alcantara contended the hearing in the U.S. has not been deferred. "There is no such thing as a 'deferred hearing,'" he added. "The judge in the U.S. struck the answer of Arthur Andersen & Co., SaS and ordered it to retain U.S. Counsel if it wants to continue to defend the action."
On the matter of U.S. patents, Alcantara said the U.S. Patent and Trade Office issued final refusals on both of the French entity’s applications, and both refusals were based upon rights owned by Andersen Tax LLC. As for Brazil, he said Andersen Tax filed an opposition, forcing a settlement and withdrawal of the offending applications. "The withdrawal operates as an adjudication of the oppositions in our favor," he added. In India, Alcantara said Andersen Tax obtained a permanent injunction against the "local infringer," and a preliminary injunction against the French entity. "The French entity continues to act in violation of the terms of the preliminary injunction and for that reason we have filed a motion for contempt, which is pending," he added.
Alcantara noted that Andersen Tax is continuing to pursue legal action against the French firm's network, initiating infringement actions in China, Brazil, Switzerland, Japan and Qatar. Offices of the French network have closed down in recent months around the world because of a permanent injunction won by Andersen Tax, and in some cases they were only "virtual offices." They include the offices in New York, Chicago, Houston and Monterey, California in the U.S.; New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, India; and Sao Paulo, Manaus, Barueri and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Other offices in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Dubai have either dropped out of the network, appear to be no longer operating or claim they never agreed to join the French firm's network, according to Andersen Tax.
Despite the legal dispute, Vorsatz said Andersen Tax is continuing to expand and added six locations this week in Turkey, Greece and Cyprus.
Vorsatz pointed to the support Andersen Tax has received from the CEOs and managing partners of the original Arthur Andersen, along with an Andersen descendant. "I have an Advisory Council of Duane Kullberg (CEO of AA from 1979 to 1989), Larry Weinbach (CEO of AA from 1989 to 1997) and Dave Buchholz (head of tax from 1978 to 1988)," he said. "I have known these individuals most of my career. Duane had contacted me about restarting Andersen in 2006. In 1990, at the age of 34, I was the managing partner of the Silicon Valley office at AA and served on a number of global management committees. Kristin Andersen, Arthur’s great granddaughter, has endorsed our organization. By contrast, you have an individual who has no legal right to the name, has never worked at Andersen, and promotes a perfume line."
(This article has been updated with quotes from Laffont-Réveilhac, Vorsatz and Alcantara.)