Deloitte Canada fined $350,000 for independence problems

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The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board said Tuesday that Deloitte Canada has been ordered to pay a $350,000 fine for failing to maintain its independence during three consecutive audits of a Canadian gold-mining company, Banro Corporation.

Deloitte Canada also agreed under the order to be censured and to go through a review of its independence policies and procedures, along with its independence training. The firm will need to report back to the PCAOB on the results of those reviews and any changes it makes.

According to the PCAOB order, Deloitte Canada’s independence from its client, Banro, became impaired during audits of the company in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Deloitte’s independence was impaired due to technical reports issued by a South African mine-consulting company, Venmyn Deloitte (Pty) Ltd., which was actually an affiliate of Deloitte Canada.

Deloitte Canada settled with the PCAOB without admitting or denying the findings. “Deloitte Canada and U.S. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) have agreed to settle a matter related to independence violations that occurred in connection with three audits of an issuer client,” said a statement forwarded by Deloitte Canada spokesperson Tonya Johnson. “The matter had no impact on the client’s financial statements or the audit opinions on those financial statements. Deloitte Canada made judgments at the time on the application of the independence rules. The PCAOB has concluded that these judgments were not consistent with the independence rules. Deloitte Canada accepts that conclusion. Since the start of PCAOB’s inquiry and as part of our annual inspections with the PCAOB, the firm has taken extensive action to address this matter and independence generally. We take our professional responsibilities to deliver services of the highest quality and in conformity with all applicable professional rules and standards extremely seriously.”

Venmyn Deloitte was formerly known as Venmyn Rand (Pty) Ltd., but it became an associated entity of the firm when Deloitte & Touche (Deloitte South Africa) acquired it in 2012. After that, Venmyn Deloitte was considered to be part of Deloitte Canada for purposes of the the Securities and Exchange Commission’s auditor independence rules.

“Deloitte Canada was in essence auditing its own work during the 2012 audit of Banro by relying on Venmyn’s valuation of Banro’s mining assets, in clear violation of independence rules,” said Mark Adler, acting director of enforcement and investigations, in a statement. “This case also emphasizes the need for auditors to consider not only the types of non-audit services provided to audit clients, but also the impact of public statements made to investors when providing those services.”

In both its 2013 and 2014 technical mining reports, as well as in company press releases, Venmyn Deloitte publicly acknowledged responsibility for certain Banro gold resource and reserve estimates. That impaired Deloitte Canada’s independence because both Deloitte Canada and Banro basically had a mutual interest in making sure that Banro’s estimates proved to be correct.

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