Big Four firm EY will be prohibited from taking on new public interest clients in Germany for two years following an investigation into its audit work at collapsed payment processor Wirecard.
EY was also fined 500,000 euros (U.S. $545,000) by Germany’s accounting watchdog APAS in its decision released Monday. The decision does not reference EY by name but focused on the audits of Wirecard from 2016-18, for which EY gave a clean bill of health. Five unnamed EY auditors were also penalized by the watchdog.
Wirecard filed for bankruptcy in June 2020, three days after acknowledging $2 billion in assets listed on its balance sheet likely did not exist. The company’s fraudulent financial reporting detailed through media reports resulted in a massive scandal in Germany involving Wirecard’s executives, auditor, and the regulators charged with overseeing the firm.
EY, which audited Wirecard for a decade, found the $2 billion discrepancy and refused to sign off on the company’s 2019 financial report. The discovery only came after media and investor reports about potential discrepancies at Wirecard, as well as issues raised by another firm, KPMG, during an audit conducted at Wirecard’s request.
The APAS’s investigation into EY uncovered professional misconduct worthy of the penalties handed down, according to the watchdog’s translated press release. Though light on specifics regarding the findings, the decision noted the case was deliberated over the span of weeks in October and examined EY working papers, relevant communications of all parties involved, witness statements, information from third parties, and statements by those affected.
“This is the most extensive procedure carried out by APAS to date,” said the watchdog. A dozen auditors were initially investigated before seven were ruled out for not being current members of the profession.
The APAS noted its decision relates specifically to EY and does not pertain to other investigations into the company or its former executives. EY has the right to appeal the watchdog’s findings.
An EY spokesman said in an emailed statement the firm was aware the APAS concluded its investigation but hadn’t yet been provided the full details of the watchdog’s conclusions.
“EY Germany has fully cooperated with APAS throughout its investigation,” the spokesman said. “We regret that the collusive fraud at Wirecard was not discovered sooner, and we have learned important lessons from this matter.
“… EY Germany is a different organization today. Since 2020, we have taken significant action to strengthen audit quality and risk management. … We are continuously driving improvement to provide quality services to EY clients.”
Excluded from the two-year audit ban are existing engagements EY has in place in the country.
In the aftermath of the scandal, EY overhauled the leadership at its German affiliate, launched a new quality assurance initiative, and formed an independent expert commission linked to its management to help serve as a monitor.