Concluding a years-long investigation, the U.K.’s accounting watchdog has fined Deloitte a record 15 million pounds ($19.4 million) for “serious and serial failures” in its audits of software firm Autonomy.
The Financial Reporting Council’s investigation focused on Deloitte’s audits of Autonomy’s financial statements before the company was acquired for $11 billion by Hewlett-Packard in 2011.
After a seven-week hearing last year, an independent disciplinary tribunal found Deloitte and two former partners, Richard Knights and Nigel Mercer, were culpable of misconduct for audit failings related to the accounting and disclosure of Autonomy’s sales of hardware and its sales of software licenses to value added resellers.
The FRC announced Thursday that the tribunal had upheld its request for sanctions, with Knights and Mercer being fined 500,000 pounds and 250,000 pounds, respectively. The 15 million pound fine against Deloitte surpasses the previous record of 10 million pounds against Big Four rival PwC in 2018 over its audit of retailer BHS.
“The significant sanctions … reflect the gravity and extent of the failings by Deloitte and two of its former partners in discharging their public interest duty concerning Autonomy’s audits,” Elizabeth Barrett, the FRC’s executive counsel, said in a news release.
“The identified failures to act with integrity, objectivity, skepticism and professional competence go to the heart of audit,” she added.
The FRC alleged Deloitte allowed Autonomy to hide 118 million pounds of loss-making hardware sales before the company was sold to HP. A year later, HP took an $8.8 billion writedown on the deal, alleging accounting irregularities.
U.S. authorities are seeking to extradite Autonomy founder Mike Lynch to face criminal charges while former CFO Sushovan Hussain was sentenced in 2019 to five years in prison for his role in allegedly duping HP into purchasing the company. HP has also sued Lynch for fraud in London.
The independent tribunal said its findings of a loss of objectivity on six separate occasions against Knights were “particularly serious and unusual.”
“Our audit practices and processes have evolved significantly since this work was performed over a decade ago,” Deloitte said in a statement.
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