Financial Statement Fraud: Olympus Makes It Look Easy

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What is a company to do when it wants to hide losses? Manipulation of the financial statements is the obvious first choice. It’s not hard. Sure companies have “internal controls,” which are supposed to include policies and procedures which ensure that financial information is properly recorded. But companies of all sizes have problems with their internal controls, such that it’s not terribly difficult to issue fraudulent financial statements.

Michael Woodford was dismissed in October as CEO of Olympus, and subsequently disclosed that he was fired because he raised questions about some acquisitions by the company. He alleges that Olympus paid incredibly high prices for companies it acquired, and also paid huge “advisory fees” to agents who supposedly represented Olympus in the transactions. The purpose behind these transactions? To cover up investment losses that were decades old without drawing any attention to the issue. Continue reading

Article at CFO.com: When Your Compliance Program Fails

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cfo.comThe steps to take when an employee comes forward with a fraud tip, whether the allegations are false or not.

By Tracy Coenen, Contributor to CFO.com

You think your company has a robust compliance program to prevent financial-statement fraud, asset misappropriation, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, and other financial frauds. There are checks and balances in place, with lawyers, internal auditors, executives, and the board of directors keeping an eye on things.

Still, the unthinkable happens. Reports of a major internal fraud surface, and the scheme may involve several members of middle or upper management. The information – received through an employee’s whisper, an internal hotline, or the rumor mill – has enough substance to be deemed credible, yet not enough to know exactly who is involved, how wide-reaching the fraud may be, the amount of money stolen, or the exposure to government action and penalties. Continue reading

Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Rule Adopted by SEC Discourages Internal Reporting

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The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, enacted on July 21, 2010, established a whistleblower incentive program requiring the Securities and Exchange commission to provide monetary awards to whistleblowers who come forward with information about the violation of federal securities laws, including violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The Act also prohibits employers from retaliating against those who provide information about securities violations.

The reward for providing information that leads to a successful enforcement action by the SEC which results in monetary sanctions over $1,000,000 can be 10% to 30% of the penalty paid. Continue reading

Whistleblower Provisions Under Dodd-Frank

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There has been lots of chatter about the whistleblower provisions under Dodd-Frank. A whistleblower  can earn 10% to 30% of any penalty the federal government imposes against a company. And companies have to be very careful, because there are anti-retaliation provisions in the legislation too.

One problem with this legislation that I hadn’t thought about is the impact it could have on employees using fraud hotlines. One of the most common ways that fraud is detected within companies is via tips from employees, vendors, or customers. An anonymous hotline helps encourage the reporting of these tips. Continue reading

Why Audits Are Near Worthless (Yes, Internal Audit Too)

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Francine McKenna at re: The Auditors has an interesting post and set of comments about internal audit functions at public companies and the importance of internal auditors.

External auditors look at a company’s financial statements and a small amount of underlying transactions in order to issue a report that the financial statements are properly presented. (It’s really a check of math and application of accounting rules.) The financial statement audits aren’t designed to detect fraud, and so they almost never do.

In contrast, the internal audit function is engaged in ongoing audits of the financial reporting process and other numbers-related projects. The scope of internal audit work varies greatly from company to company. Continue reading

From Whistleblower to Charges of Financial Fraud

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The New York Times published a very interesting story about Joseph Ripp, the former AOL CFO who went from being a whistleblower, to finding himself with civil charges of financial fraud.

Ripp became a whistleblower in May 2001 when he faxed a letter to auditing firm Arthur Andersen about one of AOL’s business partners. He told Andersen that their client (AOL’s business partner) had forged a signature on a contract and booked millions of dollars of phony revenue. Continue reading

Former Herbalife Director of Venezuela and Columbia Comes Forward With Fraud Claims, Reports Fraud Discovery Institute

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Herbalife (NYSE: HLF) whistleblower says illegal acts likely responsible for region’s dramatic supervisor growth

Herbalife (NYSE:HLF) executives identified Venezuela as a Top 10 market for the company in their May 2, 2008, conference call, and indeed, triple digit new supervisor growth was reported there in the first quarter. However, according to former Herbalife Director of Venezuela and Columbia, Ricardo Hollander, all is not as it seems in Venezuela.  Continue reading

“Whistleblowers” barred from testifying as witnesses in State Farm Insurance Hurricane Katrina case

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Back in August 2006, I reported on Kerri Rigsby and Cori Rigsby, sisters who worked as independent adjusters for State Farm. The sisters were deemed “whistleblowers,” for their allegations of corruption at State Farm Insurance.

The sisters came forward, claiming that there was fraud in the Biloxi and Gulfport field offices related to the processing of Hurricane Katrina claims. They said that supervisors were pressuring adjusters and consultants to attribute hurricane damage to water, rather than wind, so that claims would not have to be paid. Under the State Farm policies, water damage is not covered, but wind damage is. Continue reading

Whistleblower website forced off the internet

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Wikileaks.org, a site that allowed people to anonymously leak incriminating documents, has been shut down by its web host, Dynadot. Dynadot, shut it down and locked the domain name so it can’t be transferred to another host, pursuant to an agreement settling a lawsuit against it.

Someone posted documents on the site claimed to show that a bank in the Cayman Islands was engaged in money laundering and tax evasion. Julius Baer, the parent company of the accused bank brought a lawsuit against Dynadot after unsuccessfully trying to get the site to remove the documents.

Instead of defending itself in the lawsuit, Dynadot decided it was easier to shut down the site. But this I think is even more interesting: Dynadot is turning over information about Wikileaks, including IP addresses and information associated with the site. Continue reading

Cynthia Cooper’s book – Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower

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cooper.jpgCynthia Cooper, WorldCom whistleblower, is releasing her book in just few days. Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower is her story. If it is anything like the speech I heard her give a few years ago at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners Fraud Conference, it will be fantastic.

Unlike other so-called whistleblowers of the Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco era… Cynthia is the true hero. She stood up for what she knew was right and she suffered for it. Make no mistake that she was in danger as she and her team attempted to get to the bottom of accounting shenanigans at WorldCom.

Publishers Weekly writes:

In Cooper’s thorough and efficient narrative about the fantastic collapse of telecommunications giant WorldCom there are two distinct themes: her insider’s view of the corporation’s widespread wrongdoing and the life experiences that led Cooper to becoming a courageous whistleblower. Cooper, former vice president of WorldCom’s internal audit department, is most successful with the former. She brings us into the boardrooms, the backrooms and, somehow, into the heads of key players as some struggled with and others embraced the deceptions that would bring WorldCom down.

I’ll be reviewing the book in the next couple of weeks and can’t wait to share my thoughts.