While Big Four firm KPMG was busy writing a check for $456 million as a settlement with federal regulators for its part in pushing fraudulent tax shelters, the remaining three global audit firms were either breathing a sigh of relief or wondering if they'll soon receive a request for a chat with prosecutors.Because KPMG avoided a criminal indictment like the one that ultimately proved fatal to now-defunct Big Five firm Arthur Andersen, my guess is you won't see a lemming-like exodus of audit clients like that at Andersen circa 2002.

True, the firm has to pay out a lot of money and have former Securities and Exchange Commission chair Richard Breeden monitor activities for a period of three years, but the glass half-full analogy is that it's still in business - although the structure of its tax practice will in all likelihood be modified. KPMG sold its now infamous shelters, which were packaged under acronyms such as BLIPS, OPIS and FLIPS, to hundreds of people during the period from 1996 to 2002, collecting $124 million in fees. According to a Senate subcommittee report, the shelters prevented the Treasury from realizing some $1.4 billion in tax revenues.

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