Washington, D.C.-At least 12 major nations - including several of the U.S.'s top international trading partners - are continuing to slam the door on efforts by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board to conduct cross-border inspections of non-U.S. audit firms as required by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
As a result, more than three dozen foreign accounting firms have managed to evade PCAOB inspections, even though they registered with the board to audit U.S. corporations more than four years ago.
The board, however, released an update to its list of jurisdictions outside the U.S. where it conducted inspections of registered firms. It conducted inspections in 33 jurisdictions as of the end of last year, including far-flung locales like Papua New Guinea and Kazakhstan. Ironically, the roster of foreign audit firms that have sidestepped PCAOB inspections is top-heavy with foreign affiliates of major U.S. firms such as the Big Four, BDO and Grant Thornton.
The inability of U.S. authorities to complete field inspections of these firms has thrown a monkey wrench into its plans to move forward with its SOX mandate to examine the performance of foreign accounting firms that audit U.S. companies.
At the onset of 2009, the PCAOB announced its intention to embark on an effort to conduct inspections of firms in 27 countries, but was unable to undertake inspections in 12 of those countries "because of asserted restrictions under non-U.S. law or objections based on national sovereignty."
In a statement outlining the progress of its efforts during 2009, officials at the board said that "access to the information necessary to conduct inspections of registered firms was, and continues to be, denied in China, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom."
Because of the resistance of many governments to permit U.S. inspections of audit firms in their countries, the PCAOB issued new rules allowing the board to defer, for up to three years, the first inspection of certain non-U.S. firms that otherwise would have been required to be inspected in 2009.
But in adopting that rule, the PCAOB said that it intended to inspect at least four of those firms during 2009, and that these four collectively would be responsible for auditing U.S. companies with a combined market capitalization equal to 35 percent of the total market cap of U.S. audit clients for all deferred firms.
By the end of last year, however, the PCAOB had inspected only two of those four firms, and fell short of the U.S. market capitalization threshold target.
Despite the roadblocks, the PCAOB expressed optimism about the future of its international campaign. "Discussions are continuing with the relevant authorities in those jurisdictions in an effort to resolve their objections to PCAOB inspections," officials at the board said.
They also released a list of 28 nations in which they intend to conduct audit firm inspections during 2010 - including all 12 countries that continue to lock the door to PCAOB inspectors.
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