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KPMG, partner settle SEC audit failure allegations

Tammy Whitehouse | August 15, 2017

The Securities and Exchange Commission has extracted a $6.2 million settlement from KPMG and a partner over charges that the firm and engagement partner John Riordan failed to properly audit oil and gas company Miller Energy Resources, which earlier settled accounting fraud charges.

The SEC says Miller Energy Resources misled investors about the company’s overall value by including in its 2011 financial statements values for key oil and gas assets that were “grossly overstated.” Yet KPMG issued an unqualified audit opinion, the SEC said, because the firm overlooked the overvaluation of certain oil and gas interests the company had purchased in Alaska in 2010.

“Among other audit failures, KPMG and Riordan did not adequately consider and address facts known to them that should have raised serious doubts about the company’s valuation, and they failed to detect that certain fixed assets were double-counted in the company’s valuation,” the SEC says.

“KPMG retained a new client and failed to grasp how it valued oil and gas properties, resulting in investors being misinformed that properties purchased for less than $5 million were worth a half-billion dollars,” said SEC Director Walter E. Jospin in a statement.

In fact, the SEC goes further to say Riordan failed to properly assess the risks associated with accepting Miller Energy as a client and failed to properly staff the audit. Without admitting or denying any findings, Riordan agreed to a $25,000 penalty and is suspended from appearing or practicing before the SEC as an accountant. That means he cannot participate in either audits or financial reporting for public companies, although he can apply for reinstatement after two years.

KPMG also did not admit or deny findings, but agreed to be censured and to pay a penalty of $1 million, plus disgorgement of all audit fees received from the company, with interest. That brings the total penalty package up to $6.2 million. The firm also agreed to “significant undertakings,” the SEC said, to improve its system of quality control. Miller Energy settled its charges with the SEC in 2015.

In a statement, KPMG points out that the matter is a bit dated, going back to 2011. Audit regulation has ratcheted up considerably since then, and firms have taken significant measures to address audit approaches that failed to adequately challenge management assertions.

“KPGM is committed to the highest standards of professionalism, integrity and quality, and we have fully cooperated with our regulators to reach a resolution,” the firm said. Riordan remains employed with KPMG, according to a spokesman.