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Would you do this with your job?

If a company outsources jobs, in some situations it can be seen as good business practice but if an individual outsources his own job then what is that seen as?

Outsourcing is where a company gets another organisation to undertake a job or business function that would have previously been completed in-house. This is often done for cost saving reasons and an illustration of outsourcing would for example be getting another organisation to maintain your payroll.

A while ago there was the first example I’d heard of an individual outsourcing his own job.

Verison is one of the leading telecoms companies in the US and their security team provided details of a case study where an employee by the name of “Bob” who was a top developer had actually outsourced his own job to China without his employers knowing about it.

In other words, he had received his salary from his employers but had personally paid for somebody else to do his job at a cheaper rate without his employer knowing about it!

He was paid in excess of USD 100,000 for his job and yet he was paying a Chinese consulting firm less than 20% of that to do the job for him.

According to Verison a typical day for Bob was:

9:00 a.m. – Arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours. Watch cat videos (!!)
11:30 a.m. – Take lunch
1:00 p.m. – Ebay time.
2:00 – ish p.m Facebook updates – LinkedIn
4:30 p.m. – End of day update e-mail to management.
5:00 p.m. – Go home

Despite not actually doing any of the work himself his performance reviews were excellent and he had been regarded as the best developer in the building.

So, in summary – he was paid a pretty good salary and all he did was play around on the internet.

All his real work was outsourced by him to a Chinese company. He paid them whilst his employer paid him 5 times the amount that he had paid the Chinese company.

Bob lost his job but it does raise an interesting debate as when a company outsources it’s seen as a clever move but when an individual outsources their own job they end up losing that job.

Anyway, whilst you’re thinking of that particular point I’d like to mention that the next blog article will be written by a Chinese company but please don’t tell my employer.

Meanwhile I’m off to watch some cat videos…

Will auditors become more like Tom Cruise in the future?

Gone are the days when auditors were manually checking and ticking lots of pieces of paper. Today’s auditing techniques involve significant use of computers.

But how far can this computer use go? Will they be able to predict when accounting fraud is going to take place as opposed to tracking transactions that have already occurred?

The film Minority Report starring Tom Cruise was based around software that could predict when a crime was going to happen and the culprits would be arrested before they actually committed the crime. Although this film seemed well and truly within the realms of science fiction, IBM have worked in conjunction with the Memphis police department in America to develop a sophisticated computer software package which aims to predict where and when future crimes are likely to occur.

The software is known as Crush (Criminal Reduction Utilising Statistical History) and is used to identify potential crime hotspots based on a variety of data including crime reports, offender profiles and strangely enough even weather forecasts.

Once these upcoming crime hotspots have been identified then the police can allocate resources accordingly.

The rollout of this software reportedly resulted in a reduction of serious crime by 30%.

Back to auditing though and will the next step be predicting when a fraud is likely to occur using statistical analysis based on industry, profit movements, director’s personal life and spending habits (plus the weather of course)?

Given the reliability of some computers though, one thing for sure is that if you happen to live in a town called “Syntax Error” then you may have a surprise visit from a Tom Cruise lookalike with a briefcase and a calculator…

Would you do this for a bit of chocolate?

What’s one way of increasing the chances of getting hold of someone’s password?

Does it involve the use of the very latest supercomputer? Does it involve some clever IT geeks hacking into a computer for you?

Or does it involve chocolate?

A bit of research published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour attempted to find out how people are obligated by the kindness of others. Or in other words, if someone does something nice for a person, how likely is it that the person will be nice back to them?

The researchers in Luxembourg conducted a survey of random people in the street asking them about internet security including questions about passwords.

Some of the people interviewed were given chocolate and some weren’t.

30% of those that were not given chocolate revealed their passwords which to me is a surprisingly high percentage and just goes to show that quite often human stupidity is the weakest link in internet security.

For the people who were given chocolate at the beginning of the interview the figure rose to 44% and if the chocolate was given just before the question on passwords was asked an incredible 48% gave their passwords! Yes, nearly half of the people asked their passwords as part of a survey told a complete stranger their password if they had been given chocolate.

Andre Melzer, the author of the study said that “when someone does something nice for us we automatically feel obliged to return the favour”.

So, in conclusion, if someone walks up to you in the office and offers you a piece of chocolate be careful what you say…

Would you do this for a bit of chocolate?

What’s one way of increasing the chances of getting hold of someone’s password?

Does it involve the use of the very latest supercomputer? Does it involve some clever IT geeks hacking into a computer for you?

Or does it involve chocolate?

A recent bit of research published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour attempted to find out how people are obligated by the kindness of others. Or in other words, if someone does something nice for a person, how likely is it that the person will be nice back to them?

The researchers in Luxembourg conducted a survey of random people in the street asking them about internet security including questions about passwords.

Some of the people interviewed were given chocolate and some weren’t.

30% of those that were not given chocolate revealed their passwords which to me is a surprisingly high percentage and just goes to show that quite often human stupidity is the weakest link in internet security.

For the people who were given chocolate at the beginning of the interview the figure rose to 44% and if the chocolate was given just before the question on passwords was asked an incredible 48% gave their passwords! Yes, nearly half of the people asked their passwords as part of a survey told a complete stranger their password if they had been given chocolate.

Andre Melzer, the author of the study said that “when someone does something nice for us we automatically feel obliged to return the favour”.

So, in conclusion, if someone walks up to you in the office and offers you a piece of chocolate be careful what you say…

Is this the most expensive typo in history?

We’ve all made typos in the past but I bet your typo wasn’t as expensive as this one.

Typos, where you misspell a word or put in a wrong word by mistake, are fairly common. This particular typo though was incredibly costly as it resulted in a company going out of business, 250 people losing their jobs and the government having to pay £9 million in compensation.

business closingBack in 2009 Mr Davison-Sebry, the MD and co-owner of Taylor and Sons Ltd was enjoying a holiday in the Maldives when he received a phone call asking why his company had gone into receivership.

Receivership is very often the first stage of a company going out of business. It typically occurs when a company is suffering financial difficulties and an independent “receiver” is called in to run the company instead of the directors.

Taylor & Sons Ltd was a successful company. It had been established back in 1875 and was doing very well so why the call to the MD asking why his company had gone into receivership?

Well it turns out that Companies House (the organisation in the UK that publishes official notices about companies) had issued a notice saying that Taylor & Sons Ltd had gone into receivership.

Unfortunately for all of the people involved with Taylor & Sons Ltd, it was a typo by Companies House and the company that had actually gone into receivership was Taylor & Son Ltd and not Taylor & Sons Ltd.

Companies House rectified their “one letter mistake” within a few days but it was too late. There was a snowball effect as one supplier after another heard about it and despite being told that Taylor & Sons Ltd was financially secure, they terminated the orders and cancelled the credit agreements.

Within 3 weeks all of the company’s 3,000 suppliers had cancelled agreements and would not supply the company anymore.

The end result was that Taylor & Sons Ltd lost all of their suppliers and as a result couldn’t produce anything for their customers so they ended up going out of business.

The end of a 140 year-old company and all due to a one letter type.

The directors were understandably unhappy about this and took Companies House to court where they were recently successful in their case and won nearly £9 million in damages.

That was probably the most expensive one letter typo in history.

Have GlaxoSmithKline employees been bribing doctors?

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies. Last year its global revenues were £26 billion and their net income £5 billion. Their drugs include the anti-depressant Paxil (worldwide lifetime sales to date over $12 billion) and the diabetes drug Avandia (over $11 billion).

gskIt seems that all is not well for the company in China though and they appear to have undertaken some less than honest business practices.

It’s just been reported that the company has allegedly been paying bribes and these bribes are pretty significant. Over £300 million in bribes to be precise.

They are accused of paying £323 million in bribes to doctors and other officials in China since 2007 to persuade them to prescribe GSK drugs to their patients. They appear to have paid these bribes in order to win market share and agree higher prices for their drugs.

The Authorities claim the transactions were disguised as payments to “travel agents” who were middlemen who organised “conferences” for doctors. Instead of this money being spent on conferences though it seems that it was given illegally as bribes.

The Head Office of GSK is understandably taking this pretty seriously and the head of their emerging markets department, Abbas Hussain was quoted as saying “We have zero tolerance for any behaviour of this nature.”

He went on to say “I want to make it very clear that we share the desire of the Chinese authorities to root out corruption wherever it exists. We will continue to work together with the [Chinese Ministry of Public Security] and we will take all necessary actions required as this investigation progresses.”

With a reference to their internal controls he said “Certain senior executives of GSK China who know our systems well appear to have acted outside of our processes and controls which breaks Chinese law”.

Somehow, I think GSKs internal control procedures need to be revisited urgently to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

One thing’s for sure though is that this is certainly going to cause a headache for the company and I’m not sure one of their headaches tablets will get rid of the short term pain of this.

What has Ernst & Young found out about fraud?

Ernst & Young has just released their report on their 2013 Fraud Survey covering Europe, Middle East, India and Africa.

There were some interesting, and some would say disturbing findings.

bribery-rules20% of the employees who were surveyed were aware of financial manipulation in their own company in the last 12 months. If you move higher up the management chain the percentage becomes higher with more than 40% of board and senior manager level individuals who were surveyed saying that sales or costs had been manipulated at their company.

When it comes to the subject of bribery, 57% of all respondents feel that bribery and corruption are widespread in their country, which rises to 67% in rapid-growth markets.

One very interesting issue when it comes to bribery is that of a compliance perception gap between management and employees.

According to EY, “While the majority of respondents are aware that their company has an anti-bribery/anti-corruption (ABAC) policy, the survey shows many organizations have a significant perception gap between senior management and employees when it comes to the relevance and effectiveness of this policy. 60% of directors and senior managers believe that their company would support people who reported cases of suspected fraud, bribery or corruption, whereas only 34% of other employees agree.”

60% vs. 34% – quite a big perception gap!

The full EY report can be found here.

An ex-partner of KPMG has been a bit naughty…

An ex-partner at KPMG has been a bit naughty. In fact, he’s been more than a bit naughty as he’s been accused of insider trading.

Insider trading is the illegal activity of using information which isn’t in the public domain to make a personal gain or avoid a personal loss.

insider-trading-examplesScott London was a partner at KPMG in the US and led their LA audit practice. Two of their major clients were the nutrition supplement giant Herbalife and the leading footwear company Skechers.

It’s been alleged that Mr London passed on price sensitive information to a golfing friend of his who then subsequently made more than $1.2 million in illicit trading of shares ahead of merger or earnings announcements (in other words, the golfing friend bought shares at a low price knowing that the share price would increase as soon as the information he was secretly given was released into the public domain).

The US Securities and Exchange Commission charged Mr London and his golfing buddy with insider trading on non-public information.

As soon as KPMG found out about this Mr London was fired and quickly became an ex-partner in the firm.

A statement from Mr London was published in the Wall Street Journal where he apologised “for any harm that results to KPMG”. He went on to say that “I regret my actions in leaking non-public data to a third party regarding the clients I served for KPMG”.

It’s not looking very good for Mr London as the authorities will no doubt come down heavily on him.

It’s unfortunate for KPMG as well as due to Mr London’s illegal activities their independence on the audits of Herbalife and Skechers had been compromised. As a result they have resigned as auditors of both Herbalife and Skechers.

He could beat vampires but he couldn’t beat the tax man…

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It doesn’t matter if you’re a famous film star or not. If you don’t pay your taxes you could get into a lot of trouble.

445px-Wesley_Snipes_mug_shot

Wesley Snipes, the famous star of films such as the Blade Trilogy and White Men Can’t Jump hasn’t starred in any films during the last 3 years.

And the reason why?

Well, the reason is that he’s been in jail since 2010 after not paying tax on $37 million of earnings.

Despite being able to defeat terrorists and vampires in his films he was unable to beat the US tax authorities and was convicted of federal tax evasion. The photo of Mr Snipes above is his mug shot courtesy of the United States Marshals Service.

For the last 3 years he has had to swap film premieres and glamorous parties for the confinement of a US prison cell.

It’s an interesting point but people often get the terms “tax evasion” and “tax avoidance” confused and think they are the same thing.

In fact the two phrases mean different things and in the UK for example tax evasion is where a person evades paying tax by illegal ways such as non declaration of income. Tax avoidance on the other hand is where a person minimises his or her tax liability in a legal way (whether or not it is in an ethical way though is a different matter altogether!).

Mr Snipes was convicted of tax evasion back in 2010 and has just been released from prison although he remains under house arrest until July when he will be free to start his film career again.

One thing he should probably do first though before he starts his film career again is to find a good tax accountant to make sure that he settles all his tax liabilities correctly on any of his future earnings and doesn’t evade any tax.

Forget your Gucci handbag, you’ll just be scratching the surface…

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We all know that the pharmaceuticals industry is big business.

The industry is facing considerable challenges however, with a large proportion of the “blockbuster” drugs due to come off patent in the next few years.

risk-exampleDrug companies are all too aware that they might well need a big breakthrough soon in order to sustain their historical levels of shareholder return.

A lesser known threat to the industry, and more direct threat to us individually, is the rapid growth in fake prescription drugs.  Patents protect a patent holder against a legitimate business from copying their product.  It’s not much use against criminality.

Fake Gucci handbags may be an annoyance to Gucci, but nobody dies when they are purchased.  Fake drugs can be sufficiently dissimilar to the real product to allow diseases to build up resistance to the genuine drug.  An overdose may be fatal in the short-term; an under-dose may be fatal in the longer-term.

So there’s a significant incentive for all concerned to maintain integrity in the production and logistics chain that gets the genuine drugs to those in need.  Countries where prescription drug usage is culturally common and poorer countries are probably most at risk.

A Ghanaian company, mPedigree, has come up with an ingenious and simple solution.  Working in conjunction with bona fide drugs manufacturers, it assigns a code to each packet of pills.  This is then added to the box, in the form of a scratch card.

When customers buy the product, they scratch off the scratchcard style covering on the box and then send a free text message / sms with that code.  If the product’s codes are genuine, a text message is immediately sent back to verify their authenticity.  If not, the customer knows that they have just been sold a potentially dangerous dud.

Of course, there will be risks to this process, such as criminal elements infiltrating the process of allocating codes, but this is a smaller risk to contain than the wider risk of fake drugs, but this is a process that an auditor could even give an assurance opinion on.

Given the worldwide very high penetration of mobile phones and the cheapness of text messages, this is a fascinating solution to a big problem.  Maybe in future it could be refined to also warn if drugs are genuine but beyond their sell by date (time expired drugs can also become dangerously lacking in efficacy).

What a wonderful, simple idea.

Selling a hotel that you don’t own – what could possibly go wrong?

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One of the general duties of company directors is to exercise reasonable skill, care and diligence.

Three directors by the name of Robin Reichelt, Stephen Nathan and John Gibbs were clearly not exercising any of these attributes though.

Whilst on the face of it their plan to reclaim VAT on the purchase of a hotel sounded ok, in reality there were a number of things which didn’t quite work or to put it more bluntly, a couple of things which were completely illegal.

The background to the situation was that one of their group companies sold a lease to a central London hotel to another of their group companies.

The company that “sold” the hotel went into liquidation after selling it and the company that bought the hotel then submitted a claim for a refund of over £200,000 of related VAT.

The whole thing was completely illegal however as not only did they not pay the VAT in the first place (so had nothing to claim back) but the hotel didn’t even belong to the group company that had claimed it had sold it!

So, in summary they claimed to have sold a hotel that they didn’t even own to another group company and claimed back VAT that had never been paid. What could possibly go wrong??

Well, they will have several years in jail to contemplate what went wrong and to plan their next great money making idea…

What type of fine do you get for cheating?

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McLaren are one of the top Formula One motor racing teams. They are not only experts at ensuring cars are driven fast around racing circuits but they are also experts at ensuring that £34m fines are tax deductible…

Back in 2007 McLaren were fined £34 million pounds because it “had possessed and in some way used proprietary information belonging to Ferrari, and had thereby breached the rules of the FIA’s International Sporting Code to which McLaren was contractually bound”.

Or to put it another way, they had cheated by photocopying an 800 page technical document belonging to Ferrari that detailed the designs of the 2007 Ferrari cars.

Formula One’s governing body, the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile (FIA), weren’t happy about McLaren taking this approach and ordered McLaren to pay a £34m fine which they duly did.

The interesting thing though is that in their UK company tax return McLaren claimed a tax deduction for the fine.

In the UK as well as most countries around the world, fines are not tax deductible. This means that the expense does not reduce the level of profits on which tax is calculated.

McLaren argued though that this particular fine was tax deductible (i.e. the expense could be used to reduce the level of profits on which tax was applied). They said that it wasn’t a statutory fine for breaking the law (which would be non tax deductible) but instead was a fine imposed by their governing body and as such was a genuine business expense incurred in their trade which should be tax deductible.

The UK tax authorities understandably didn’t agree with this viewpoint and the argument went to an independent tax tribunal who surprisingly agreed with McLaren and said that the fine was tax deductible.

A surprising decision and there’s no truth in the rumour that the head of the independent tax tribunal is currently driving around in a McLaren…

I’d love to invite you to lunch but…

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Have you ever been to lunch with a colleague?

My guess is that unless (a) you work by yourself, (b) nobody likes you , or (c) you have a serious body odour problem then the chances are that you have had lunch with a colleague.

Now let me guess. What did you talk about over lunch?

Was it by any chance “work”?

Yes, we all do it. If we go out for lunch with a colleague then a lot of the time we’ll probably end up talking about work. Now, this could be the latest racy gossip about Mr X and Mrs Y but the chances are it may well just be about some project you are currently working on.

So is this a problem that you are talking about work over lunch?

Tech giant Apple seem to think that there could be some issues over talking about work whilst eating your lunch. They have just announced plans to open a restaurant which is reserved solely for employees.

This isn’t an on-site canteen or cafe. No, it is a two-storey building that will be located several streets away from Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Apple already run a restaurant called Caffe Mac but this restaurant is open to non-Apple employees as well as Apple employees. An obvious concern of this is that if all the Apple people are chatting away about projects they are working on such as the iPhone 28 then who knows if Mr Samsung, Mrs HTC or Miss Nokia are sitting at the next table pretending to read a newspaper.

The new “Apple only” restaurant will be a separate stand-alone restaurant exclusively for Apple employees who will be free to talk as loud as they like about the latest project they are working on.

I wonder though whether the waiters and waitresses will be using Samsung or HTC phones…

Which companies do you think are most likely to bribe?

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Here’s a quick question for you:

Companies from which of the following countries are most likely to bribe when doing business abroad?

Is it China, Netherlands, Russia or Switzerland?

My feeling is that a lot of you will probably be able to guess the correct answer but in case you’re struggling to identify which ones are most likely to make illegal payments then according to a survey of 3,000 business executives undertaken by Transparency International, companies from Russia and China are the most likely to pay bribes when doing business abroad.

Transparency International Chair, Huguette Labelle said “It is clear that bribery remains a routine business practice for too many companies and runs throughout their business dealings, not just those with public officials. And companies that fail to prevent bribery in their supply chains run the risk of being prosecuted for the actions of employees and business partners.”

At the other end of the honesty scale are companies from the Netherlands and Switzerland. Companies from these two countries were found to be the most ethical when it came to bribes, or rather not making bribes.

It’s not just the countries that the companies are from that can have an impact on the likelihood of bribing but also the industry sector that they are working in.

Bribery was most likely to happen when public sector works and construction contracts were involved.

Agriculture was reported as being the least likely industry to find bribes.

So in summary, the purchases of unmarked brown envelopes which would fit a wad of cash in are likely to be significantly higher by a Russian construction company than a Dutch agricultural company.

Was it really that easy to lose £1.3 billion?

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I tell you what. I don’t really have insurance against anything going wrong but if I put a tick in this box and pretend that I do nobody will notice and it will be ok. Won’t it?

Mr Kweku Adoboli, a 31 year old banker with UBS in London, was working in his office in the early hours of Thursday when he was arrested on suspicion of fraud and false accounting.

In simple terms he is alleged to be a “Rogue Trader“ who undertook illegal transactions which cost the bank a serious amount of money.

£1,300,000,000 to be precise.

That’s a fairly significant figure and would represent the largest single fraud that has ever taken place in the City of London.

Not whilst there is the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” and Mr Adoboli hasn’t yet had an opportunity to defend himself, it’s not currently looking too good for him.

There are striking similarities to the case 3 years ago where trader Jerome Kerviel lost Societe Generale nearly €5bn through Rogue Trading activities.

A detailed investigation has just begun but the early reports indicate that the fraud involved setting up fictitious hedging transactions to trick the bank’s risk management systems into thinking that a trade or position had been hedged against to minimise risk and limit exposure.

A hedge is in effect a form of insurance to insure that if a particular trade goes wrong there is some offset present to mitigate the loss.

If setting up false hedging entries into the bank’s “computer risk system” turns out to be true then there will be some nervous (and possibly soon to be unemployed) people at the bank who were responsible for the risk management system.

Many thought that the days of individuals being able to lose significant amounts of money for banks through unauthorised transactions were a thing of the past. After all, banks have spent a considerable amount of time and money over recent years in ensuring their risk management systems were good enough.

Unfortunately for UBS though it looks suspiciously like their systems weren’t up to the job.

Do you know a male, aged 36 to 45 who works in a finance related function?

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Don’t panic whatever you do but by any chance do you work with a male who is 36 to 45 years old and whose job is in a finance related function?

If you do then look at him as discretely as you can.

Is he exhibiting any of the following characteristics?

– Volatility and being melodramatic, arrogant and confrontational, threatening or aggressive, when challenged.

– Performance or skills of new employees in their unit do not reflect past experiences detailed on resumes.

– Unreliability and prone to mistakes and poor performance, with a tendency to cut corners and/or bend the rules, but makes attempts to shift blame and responsibility for errors.

– Unhappy, apparently stressed and under pressure, while bullying and intimidating colleagues.

– Being surrounded by “favorites,” or people who do not challenge the fraudster, and micromanaging some employees, while keeping others at arm’s length.

– Vendors/suppliers will only deal with this individual, who also may accept generous gestures that are excessive or contrary to corporate rules.

– Persistent rumors or indications of personal bad habits, addictions or vices, possibly with a lifestyle that seems excessive for their income, or apparently personally over-extended in their finances.

– Self-interested and concerned with their own agenda, and who has opportunities to manipulate personal pay and rewards.

If he is then that may be a bit of a worry.

KPMG have announced that after an analysis of nearly 350 cases that they investigated for their clients across 69 countries from 2008 to 2010 a typical fraudster was a male, aged 36 to 45 who works in a finance related function and exhibits the above list of traits.

Now, strangely enough everyone in our office who is reading this is has now turned to look at me who just happens to be a male, aged 36 to 45 who works in a finance related function…

Tesco – “Every Little Helps”. Especially someone else’s shares…

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Share incentive schemes are a good way to motivate and reward senior executive employees.

As far as I’m aware though there are very few supermarket checkout operators that find themselves eligible for £100,000 worth of company shares as part of their remuneration package.

Mr Jeffrey Adams who worked on the checkout at Tesco’s Burton-on-Trent store in the UK though thought otherwise.

Back in 2002 he received some 44,000 shares in Tesco’s from the company that runs Tesco’s executive remuneration share plan.

These were meant for Mr Adams but alas not the Mr Jeffrey Adams that worked at the checkout in Burton-on-Trent but instead, Mr Jeff Adams who is the Chief Operating Officer of Tesco’s Fresh and Easy business in America.

Now what did Mr Adams (the checkout operator) do when he received the shares?

Did he do he honest thing and report it to his employees straight away?

No he didn’t.

Instead he sold the shares and made a profit of £100,000.

His ill-gotten gain remained secret for 7 years until Mr Adams (the Chief Operating Officer) tried to cash them in and found that the shares were nowhere to be found.

Mr Adams (the checkout operator) didn’t really appreciate the paper trail that exists when shares are sold and when he was arrested he claimed that they were left to him by his grandfather.

Mr Adams (the checkout operator) no longer works for Tesco and was last week jailed.

The judge said “You have to serve a prison sentence for £100,000 of dishonesty. You have shown no remorse and gave no plea of guilty.”

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Which is worse. A $3 billion fraud or taking $100 and giving it back the next day?

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Taylor Bean & Whitaker were one of the largest privately held mortgage lenders in the US.

Paul Allen was their CEO and involved in all the key areas of the business. Unfortunately for a lot of people Mr Allen also became involved in the fraud which led to the Taylor Bean business being closed down with 2,000 people losing their jobs.

The fraud also contributed to the collapse of Colonial Bank in the States after they purchased hundreds of millions of dollars of Taylor Bean mortgages.

Two major European banks also suffered as BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank lost nearly $2 billion as a result of buying various corporate paper from Taylor Bean which was not suitably backed up by collateral.

A $3 billion fraud with thousands of people losing their jobs. Clearly a serious crime.

The end result was that Mr Allen was jailed for just over 3 years.

Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum in terms of crime against financial institutions and the financial amount involved, a teller at Capital One bank in the States was approached by Roy Brown who put a hand under his jacket, claimed it was a gun and demanded money.

The teller handed Mr Brown 3 piles of money but he only took one $100 bill.

Mr Brown then had a change of heart and the next day handed himself into police and told them that his mother didn’t raise him that way.

He was homeless and told police that he needed the $100 to attend a detox centre.

Despite Mr Brown’s dramatic change of heart he was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison for the robbery.

So in summary, $3 billion and 3 years vs. $100 and 15 years…

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Would you steal £30m from ING Bank?

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How much would you try to steal from your employer if you work for ING bank and you’re an accountant?

Hopefully most of you would not try to steal anything from your employer but if you were a lady by the name of Rajina Rita Subramaniam who worked for ING in Sydney, Australia for 20 years then the temptation was just too much.

So what did she steal?

A few pens? Maybe some yellow post-it stickers?

Nope, not even close.

According to press reports in Australia Rajina is about to plead guilty to defrauding ING of an astonishing AUS $45 million (approx. £30 million).

The sharp eyed amongst you will probably guess that she didn’t take if from the petty cash til.

She allegedly siphoned off millions of dollars from the company into a number of private accounts.

Rather than hold on to the stolen money for a rainy day she spent the money on a variety of items including beachside apartments and diamond jewellery (oh, and rather bizarrely some Michael Jackson memorabilia).

Even ignoring the items such as luxury properties she had outside her office, Police allege that she had over 600 pieces of jewellery as well as 200 perfume and make-up items in her office at the ING building where she worked.

Whilst Ms Subramaniam was temporarily one of the wealthiest people in Australia I don’t think she was one of the brightest. Surely it must have been obvious that when a normal bank employee started having the lifestyle of a Saudi Prince there would be certain suspicions raised.

After all, how many of her colleagues also had luxury properties looking over Bondi Beach and wore a Bulgari diamond necklace worth nearly £1 million.

According to prosecutors, the thefts came to light when staff at Bulgari saw that the accountant was paying for luxury items via direct transfers from ING accounts.

It’s not clear from the reports whether Ms Subramaniam wore a Michael Jackson diamond studded single glove to meetings in the office.

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Is it acceptable for a client to hold your audit files hostage?

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It seems that Deloitte has had a spot of bother in dealing with one of its Chinese clients.

When they initially won the audit for Longtop they were no doubt very pleased.

Longtop Financial Technologies Ltd., to give it its full name, is a Hong Kong-based maker of financial software. In 2007 it raised $210 million in a US IPO underwritten by Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.

Things haven’t been going too well recently though. Their share price has plunged by 56% since last November reducing the company’s market value by more than $1 billion.

They have also just lost their auditors as Deloitte has just resigned.

Auditor resignations aren’t that unusual but in Deloitte’s resignation letter that was submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission there are a few items which to put them in non technical language, sound “extremely dodgy”.

The full resignation letter submitted to the SEC can be found here but some extracts of the letter showing the highlights (or lowlights) of some items that Deloitte identified at Longtop are as follows (note that the bold emphasis on certain words was made by us):

[Start of extract from  resignation letter]

As part of the process for auditing the Company’s financial statements for the year ended 31 March 2011, we determined that, in regard to bank confirmations, it was appropriate to perform follow up visits to certain banks. These audit steps were recently performed and identified a number of very serious defects including: statements by bank staff that their bank had no record of certain transactions; confirmation replies previously received were said to be false; significant differences in deposit balances reported by the bank staff compared with the amounts identified in previously received confirmations (and in the books and records of the Group); and significant bank borrowings reported by bank staff not identified in previously received confirmations (and not recorded in the books and records of the Group).

In the light of this, a formal second round of bank confirmation was initiated on 17 May. Within hours however, as a result of intervention by the Company’s officials including the Chief Operating Officer, the confirmation process was stopped amid serious and troubling new developments including: calls to banks by the Company asserting that Deloitte was not their auditor; seizure by the Company’s staff of second round bank confirmation documentation on bank premises; threats to stop our staff leaving the Company premises unless they allowed the Company to retain our audit files then on the premises; and then seizure by the Company of certain of our working papers.

In that connection, we must insist that you promptly return our documents.

[End of extract of resignation letter]

I have to say that my initial observations are that Deloitte did the right thing in resigning!

Longtop however have released a press release in connection with the resignation and included the statement that they have “initiated a search for a new auditor.”

Somehow I’m not convinced that the other top auditing companies will be rushing out to win Longtop as a client.

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Who can really be trusted to keep a secret? Accountants or lawyers?

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When you speak with your lawyer, you can say almost anything and be confident in the knowledge that the lawyer will be able to preserve the confidentiality of your discussion.

Most people probably assume the same thing when having discussions with their accountant, especially in the context of discussing tax planning opportunities with a tax advisor.

Unfortunately, English readers should pay careful attention to the decision in a recent case, R (on the application of Prudential PLC) v HMRC, EWCA Civ 1094 if you would like the full legal citation.

This Court of Appeal decision stated that client privilege only extends between a lawyer and a client.  This means that any discussion between a client and an accountant cannot be guaranteed to be confidential.

This is an English legal case, which is binding in England and Wales only, but the judgment is based on common law, so is likely to be highly influential in jurisdictions based on the English system globally.

As the accountancy and legal professions increasingly compete, especially in the area of tax advice, this gives a significant advantage to the legal profession over the accountancy profession.

Who would you rather seek advice from: a lawyer who you are confident cannot be compelled to reveal the content of your discussion, or an expert accountant who is unable to promise confidentiality?

If you talk to a lawyer about this then they may well say they were pleased that they had this advantage over accountants.

Note of course though that if they felt like it they wouldn’t have to disclose what was said in your conversation…

That’s some obligation – it will take 180,000 years to repay it…

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Yesterday, the so called “Rogue Trader”, Jerome Kerviel, whose unauthorised trades cost his former employer Societe Generale vast losses was sentenced.

Whilst this has got a serious element to it (he was jailed for 5 years) it also has a certain element of farce. As well as the jail sentence he was ordered to pay compensation to his former employer.

Now, this wasn’t any “normal” compensation we’re talking about here. It was the princely sum of €4.9 billion. Yes, Mr Kerviel was told that he has to pay nearly €5,000,000,000 to his former employer.

Based on his annual earnings before going to jail it would take him nearly 180,000 years to pay that amount! Societe Generale have sensibly announced that they will not be pursuing the money.

Control environments don’t generally strike students as the most scintillating area of their studies.  A number of ACCA and CIMA Papers however place considerable emphasis on controls, using Sarbanes-Oxley and the COSO frameworks.

Respecting controls might slow down an employee’s daily work routine and may feel sometimes like a constraint on innovation and enterprise.  Sometimes, it may be tempting to circumvent controls, especially if it generally appears to result in making quicker profits.

Anybody tempted to do this might be interested to note the Paris court’s decision to sentence Mr Kervie.  Although the hapless gentleman alleged that the bank had been complicit in allowing him to trade beyond his authority limits, this seemed to be little defence in either showing innocence or getting a more lenient sentence.

The lesson seems to be fairly clear.  Even if the tone appears to be one of disregarding controls because management don’t take them seriously, if anything then goes wrong, management will most probably not agree that controls were considered to be unimportant!

The safest thing to do is to assume that any controls are meant to be respected, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

It could literally be your “get out of jail” card.

Look out for two prostitutes, £3.7 million of stolen cash and a 58 year old accountant at your local Toys R Us store.

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Toys R Us is one of the largest toy store chains in the world.

It’s very successful and has nearly 1,300 stores around the world. What it didn’t have though was a strong internal control system in their UK purchase ledger department.

Between 2006 and 2008, married father of two and accounts payable manager Paul Hopes made over 20 illegal payments ranging from £100,000 to £300,000 to bank accounts of fictitious toy suppliers in the Far East which he had set up himself.

The £3.7 million of illicit money was then spent on various items. One of Mr Hopes favourite methods of spending the money was on Wednesday nights when he would regularly entertain 2 prostitutes at luxury hotel suites.

As well as paying for their time and energy he also bought them a string of luxury cars including a Bentley, Toyota Land Cruiser and a BMW M3 (incidentally, his wife was at the time driving the family Ford Mondeo).

In total he spent nearly £2.5 million on the two prostitutes.

It all came to a sticky ending for Mr Hopes though as he was sentenced to 7 years in jail.

What is interesting about the sentencing is that under the Proceeds of Crime Act the Judge ordered Mr Hopes to repay £3.4 million of the £3.7 million stolen. If he fails to repay the £3.4 million then an additional 10 years will be added to his 7 year sentence. At the end of the 17 year sentence he will still be obliged to repay the £3.4 million.

Now, remember that Mr Hopes is an Accountant so I’m sure he’s an expert in double entry but even the best bookkeeping skills won’t be able to make “income” of £3.7 million minus “expenses” of £2.5 million equal a balance of £3.4 million.

I guess he’s hoping that these two particular ladies are now desperately trying to find him every Wednesday evening to give him the money back.

How can you make a salary of £26,000 stretch to buying a horse riding business, a holiday home, luxury holidays and a Range Rover costing £45,000?

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It seems that not all accountants are 100% honest.

Whilst the vast majority of accountants are  trustworthy there were two court cases in the UK this week that resulted in jail sentences for accountants.

Gary Gordon, who previously worked for the Big 4 firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, stole £45,000 from his employer UK Mission Enterprises. He rather unimaginatively simple diverted the cash into his own accounts.

He apparently had a gambling habit and didn’t appreciate the amount of money that he had stolen. He’s been jailed for 16 months.

£45,000 however pales into insignificance when compared with £1.3 million which was the amount that Tracey Laws stole from her employer Inchcape Limited.

Inchcape Limited is the parent company of a number of motor trading companies in the UK and for nearly 10 years Laws wrote 75 fraudulent cheques totaling £750,000 to her own horse riding school (which she had set up with money that she had already been stolen from her employers). She had also fraudulently transferred over £500,000 to her husband’s decorating company.

Despite having a maximum annual salary of £26,000 during her time with Inchcape she managed to buy a horse riding school, a holiday home, luxury holidays and a brand new Range Rover.

It wasn’t these mis-matched spending habits that caught her out though. Her crime was uncovered by accident when one of the motor trading companies was changing payment systems and two employees noticed a cheque made out to West Acres Stables (the stables owned by Laws).

These two observant individuals noticed that the handwriting looked very much like the handwriting of Tracey Laws. It turned out that it was her hand writing and the end result was that Laws was jailed for four years last week.

No doubt there are new internal controls in place at Inchcape and looking on the bright side for Laws she will at least save her annual accountancy membership fees going forward and she will also have her bed and breakfast supplied free of charge by Her Majesty’s Government for the next few years.

You know you’ve had too much to drink when your eyesight goes blurry, you slur your words and you spend half a billion dollars…

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Steven Perkins, a 34 year old commodity broker, attended a company golfing weekend, had a bit too much to drink over the weekend and then took the Monday off of work.

This in itself didn’t justify being fined £72,000 earlier this week by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and being identified as “an extreme risk to the market when drunk”.

It was what he did on the Monday evening that caused all the excitement.

After the golfing weekend, Mr. Perkins felt the need to carry on drinking and started drinking again on the Monday lunchtime. Late that night in a drunken stupor he bought 7 million barrels of oil using $520 million dollars belonging to his then employers PVM Oil Futures.

Because the purchases took place in the middle of the night other traders around the world thought that there was something major happening in the oil market and as a result the price of oil shot up by $1.50 a barrel in less than 30 minutes. Through the alcoholic haze Mr. Perkins gradually increased his bidding price each time to push the price up until at one stage he was responsible for nearly 70% of the global market volume.

He tried to gradually sell down his position in the morning but no doubt with a very dry mouth eventually admitted everything to his employer.

His drunken night time purchases resulted in PVM losing £6million, him being fined £72,000 and banned from the industry for five years. Plus of course, an almighty hangover.

Organic, Natural and Ethical or fraudulent trading?

‘Organic, Natural and Ethical’ is what the One stood for in the name of a company called Onefood.

Reported recently in the UK media, I think this case could well become my new lecturing example for the criminal offence of fraudulent trading.

Ostensibly the company was supplying the famous London food store Fortnum & Mason (as well as others) with organic produce. In reality, the company was buying cheap non-organic foods in supermarkets such as Waitrose and Tescos, removing the original packaging and then replacing with the company’s own packaging.

Neil Stansfield the CEO of the company, who also traded under the name of Swaddles Organic was quoted in a local newspaper as saying “Fortnum & Mason searched for the finest British classic pie throughout the UK and after arduous searching they came upon Onefood and Swaddle, sampled the product and found it to be the best in the UK. We’re impassioned by supplying natural, ethical and unadulterated food and we’re here to educate consumers about the well-being that comes from choosing British-grown organic meat.”

In truth the pork pies being referred to were bought from a local butcher for £1.30 and sold to Fortnum & Mason for £2.50. In another example given in court, a salmon purchased from Waitrose for £20 was sold on for £51.

Stansfield, his wife Kate (who acted as Company Secretary) and Russell Hudson (the company operations manager) all pleaded guilty to fraudulent trading. Neil Stansfield was sent to prison for 27 months and disqualified from working as a company director for 6 years. Kate Stansfield was sent to prison for 50 weeks, ordered to do 150 hours community service and banned from being a company director for 3 years. Russell Hudson received a 40 week prison sentence, suspended for 2 years and was ordered to do 150 hours community service.

Now where’s that organic chicken I was going to roast for supper tonight?