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European Union, China Resist PCAOB Audit Inspections

Tammy Whitehouse | February 5, 2010

The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board is getting a little more direct about where it is being denied the access necessary to complete international inspections—and resistance seems most pronounced in the European Union and China.

In an effort to be upfront about how far behind the international inspections are falling, the PCAOB said it conducted inspections in only 15 of the 27 countries where it planned to perform overseas inspections in 2009. “Access to information necessary to conduct inspections was, and continues to be, denied in China, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom,” the PCAOB said in a statement.

So in lieu of publishing inspection reports, the board published a list of 52 firms that are auditing financial statements issued in U.S. capital markets but have not been inspected in at least four years. The board’s rules require that all audit firms performing fewer than 100 audits annually must be inspected at least every three years.

Most of the 52 firms that have not been inspected are affiliates of Big 4 firms Ernst & Young, Deloitte & Touche, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. A few are affiliates of second-tier firms Grant Thornton and BDO Seidman. All 52 firms are located in countries of the European Union, China, or Hong Kong.

The PCAOB first indicated it was having trouble getting international inspections completed when it sought an adjustment in the rules regarding when firms were due to be inspected. The board promised it would prioritize its inspection schedule to target firms that audited the greatest amount of market capitalization, but it was unable to reach at least two of the highest priority firms under that criteria in 2009.

The board identified 33 countries where inspections have taken place through 2009 and 28 countries where it wants to perform inspections in 2010. The dozen countries that the PCAOB identified as having restricted access so far are all on the 2010 wish list. Greece and Ireland are the only European Union countries where the PCAOB has completed inspections.