Oil services company Weatherford International has agreed to pay $140 million to settle charges that it inflated earnings by more than $900 million through fraudulent income tax accounting.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said two senior accounting executives — former vice president of tax James Hudgins and former tax manager Darryl Kitay — orchestrated a fraud that spanned four fiscal years and falsely lowered Weatherford’s year-end provision for income taxes by $100 million to $154 million each year.
The adjustments allowed Weatherford’s reported effective tax rate (ETR) and earnings results “to better align with analysts’ expectations and Weatherford’s previously-announced projected results,” the SEC said in an administrative order.
Weatherford allegedly benefited because it used artificially inflated stock to acquire numerous companies, while Hudgins, the architect of its tax avoidance strategies, received a large bonus in 2010.
To settle the charges, the company will pay a $140 million civil penalty; Hudgins agreed to pay $334,067 in disgorgement, interest, and penalty, and Kitay must pay a $30,000 fine. As a result of the alleged fraud, Weatherford restated its financial statements on three occasions in 2011 and 2012.
“Weatherford denied its investors accurate and reliable financial reporting by allowing two executives to choose their own numbers when the actual financial results fell short of what was previously disclosed to analysts and the public,” Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, said in a news release.
The SEC noted that after being created through a merger in 1998, Weatherford employed an “aggressive strategy” to become a top-tier provider of energy services and a key component of that strategy was “to develop a superior international tax avoidance structure that reduced Weatherford’s ETR and tax expense.”
Using such methods as tax inversion, the company lowered its ETR from 36.3% in 2001 to 25.9% by the end of 2006 but in January 2007, its CFO said in an earnings call that ETR remained somewhat above that of other inverted peers.
“Soon thereafter, Weatherford started reporting ETR results that created a false perception that its international tax structure was outperforming similarly-situated competitors by a significant margin,” the SEC said.