Deloitte’s Japan firm to pay $2M to settle SEC charges over audits

Deloitte’s member firm in Japan, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu LLC, is paying a $2 million settlement to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to resolve charges that it issued audit reports for a client at the same time dozens of its employees had bank accounts at a subsidiary of the client.

The SEC found the accounts contained balances exceeding depositary insurance limits, in violation of SEC audit independence rules. In conjunction with the settlement with the firm, Deloitte Japan’s former CEO, Futomichi Amano, and its former reputation and risk leader and director of independence, Yuji Itagaki, settled related charges.

Deloitte said it has taken steps to improve its independence and controls. “We are pleased to have resolved this matter,” the firm said in a statement forwarded by spokesperson Lauren Mistretta. “Since this issue came to light, Deloitte Japan has taken definitive action to enhance the firm’s independence processes and controls. We remain committed to delivering the highest quality services to our clients in accordance with professional standards and regulatory requirements.” Amano and Itagaki could not be reached for comment.

Deloitte building in Ottawa
Deloitte's Canadian office stands in Ottawa, on Wednesday, August 10 2011. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Under SEC rules, accountants aren’t considered independent if they maintain bank accounts with an audit client with balances greater than FDIC or similar depositary insurance limits. The SEC contends that Deloitte Japan knew but failed to adequately disclose that Amano maintained bank account balances with the audit client’s subsidiary bank that compromised his independence. A follow-up investigation by the firm uncovered the fact that 88 other Deloitte Japan employees had financial relationships with the audit client that compromised their independence as well. The SEC also found that Deloitte Japan’s system of quality controls didn’t offer reasonable assurance that the firm and its auditors were independent from audit clients. For example, the SEC found that Deloitte Japan failed to adequately staff and supervise its Office of Independence and it violated independence rules by making deposits to its partners’ bank accounts over the deposit insurance limits.

“Auditor independence is critical to the integrity of the financial reporting process,” said Melissa Hodgman, associate director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, in a statement. “The auditor independence rules addressing bank account balances that exceed deposit insurance limits are clear, and audit firms must devote adequate resources to ensuring the independence of the firm and its personnel.”

Deloitte Japan, Amano and Itagaki consented to the order without admitting or denying the findings. Deloitte Japan agreed to pay $2 million in monetary sanctions and be censured. Amano and Itagaki have been temporarily suspended from appearing and practicing before the SEC as accountants and can’t participate in financial reporting or audits of public companies, but they can apply for reinstatement after two years and one year, respectively.

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