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KPMG a lesson in the dangers of corruption

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Wits University is the latest high profile organisation to cut ties with auditing firm KPMG. The local branch of the international company has lost a number of client companies as a result of its involvement with the controversial Gupta business family.

Not only is KPMG losing clients at an extremely fast rate, but it is facing a number of enquiries. The Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (IRBA) has met with KPMG executives as part of its investigation into the auditing firm’s conduct in relation to its role in the auditing of Gupta-owned company Linkway Trading and the diversion of public funds invested into a Free State dairy farm to offshore bank accounts in the United Arab Emirates.

The funds were allegedly used to fund the Gupta wedding in 2014. The investigation is looking into the fact that KPMG was aware that Gupta family companies were categorising the wedding costs as business expenses so that they could be deducted for tax purposes. The IRBA is also investigating the presence of KPMG executives at the wedding.

KPMG representatives have also appeared before parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) to answer questions about a controversial report that had implicated former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and senior officials of the SA Revenue Service (SARS). The auditing firm withdrew its findings after it was discovered that the report was designed to serve Gupta interests.

The IRBA has told Parliament that it is “likely” to investigate the conduct of the individual auditor who signed off on the forensic investigation into the “rogue unit” at SARS, as the report as a whole cannot be investigated because it is of a forensic nature and therefore does not fall within the mandate of IRBA.

The reputational damage KPMG has suffered as a result of the fact that its own internal investigation found no evidence of illegal behaviour or corruption is exacerbating the embattled firm’s prospects, with those companies that have not fired it yet threatening to do so. Public statements issued by those that have employed new external auditors mirror those of the companies still reviewing their relationship with KPMG: that KPMG has not yet taken sufficient action to begin to restore its reputation.

While political parties are baying for blood, with multiple calls for corporate South Africa to boycott KPMG, those company employees who were not involved in the corruption are not only facing job losses, but potentially an inability to find other work as a result of the stain associated with KPMG. The knock-on effect is also being felt in the businesses that used the firm’s services, with many questioning the veracity of reports conducted by KPMG in the past.

The KPMG story is only a tiny part of the Gupta saga, but is illustrative of the far-reaching implications of corruption. Hopefully, the repercussions being felt by the auditing firm, Eskom, and other implicated organisations will prove to be a deterrent to corrupt practices in the future.

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