The shaming of an audit giant: KPMG sinks even deeper into disgrace

The shaming of an audit giant: ‘Untruthful’ Big Four accountant KPMG sinks even deeper into disgrace over Silentnight collapse










KPMG and one of its senior partners lied in their defence of work for troubled mattress company Silentnight, a tribunal has found.

The accounting giant ‘advanced an untruthful defence’ when it claimed it had no choice but to push Silentnight into insolvency and advise that it sold itself to private equity firm HIG Capital, the independent disciplinary tribunal said.

It also found that KPMG and David Costley-Wood, former head of restructuring in Manchester who led the Silentnight work, failed to cooperate with investigators from the regulator, not providing evidence when asked.

Wrong numbers: Big Four accountant KPMG has been involved in a string of scandals over audits it carried out for some of Britain’s leading companies

In an embarrassing public shaming, the tribunal found that KPMG had:

  • Lied in its defence
  • Failed to disclose more than 1,800 documents to investigators
  • Was untruthful in claiming Costley-Wood had not used his private email for work purposes
  • Engaged in a conflict of interests in working for both Silentnight and HIG
  • Failed to tell regulators that it had been working for Silentnight before it was formally taken on
  • Put the money of 1,200 savers in Silentnight’s pension scheme at risk.

It is the first time that the tribunal has found any party guilty of lying in their defence. In a stinging rebuke to KPMG, regulator the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) said: ‘Advancing a defence which a respondent knows is untruthful seriously risks undermining the regulatory system [and] compounds the original failings.’

The public shaming comes as the firm also faces legal action for its role in several collapses, including Carillion and Bargain Booze owner Conviviality.

The string of scandals involving so-called Big Four firms like KPMG has led to a shake-up of the accounting industry.

KPMG and Costley-Wood – who was paid more than £800,000 in each of his last two years at the firm – had been accused of a serious conflict of interest.  

As well as advising the mattress business on its options as it struggled under a heavy debt pile, KPMG also worked with HIG – which eventually bought Silentnight’s debt, piled pressure on the firm until it became insolvent, and managed to snap up the company on the cheap in 2011, ditching its pension obligations.

The FRC fined KPMG £13million, the second largest penalty ever. Costley-Wood was slapped with a £500,000 sanction and banned from the industry for 13 years.

KPMG has since sold its own insolvency business, now called Interpath, to HIG. But the tribunal’s report reveals the extent of KPMG’s wrongdoing. One industry source said it was ‘just another sign of the culture at KPMG’.

A key allegation levelled by the FRC against Costley-Wood was that he had not considered any other options for Silentnight (which was promoted by singer Myleene Klass, pictured, before its collapse) other than a sale to HIG.

The tribunal added: ‘Our impression was that he was a person who worked quickly and under pressure and spent little time reviewing documents to assess their accuracy before he agreed to them and could act (including answering questions in cross examination) impetuously.’

The tribunal also found it ‘difficult to explain’ KPMG’s failure to tell regulators that it had done £45,000 of work for Silentnight before being formally taken on.

KPMG’s UK chief executive Jon Holt said the report made ‘difficult reading’.

He added: ‘We accept the findings. We regret that the professional standards we expect of our partners were not met and that it has taken over a decade to reach this point.’

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