Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Justice in the world of accountancy

We wrote with indignation some time ago about Sean FitzPatrick's wilful mismanagement of Anglo Irish Bank in 'The buck starts here'. Today we come to another similar case closer to home with the announcement from the FSA of punitive fines for two former directors of Northern Rock, David Baker and Richard Barclay.

Perhaps the former directors of Northern Rock ought to be relieved that they were not working in the Republic of Ireland where Sean Fitzpatrick is facing more serious proceedings than an investigation by the FSA. After all, the effect of what they did in distorting the accounts was much the same in both cases. Even so there are key differences that probably justify the different treatments.

First and foremost, there seems to be no suggestion that Baker and Barclay made any financial gain personally from their actions. They seem to have been more interested in covering up the dire state of Northern Rock's finances so as to keep the show on the road. Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, seems to have treated Anglo Irish Bank as his own treasure chest.

The second crucial difference is in the nature of the deception. Fitzpatrick admits to changing the accounts of the bank so that loans from other banks appeared as if they were deposits from customers: a complete misrepresentation of the historical facts. At Northern Rock, though, the directors failed to include a proper estimate of impaired loans. There is no doubt that they did know better and that is why they are culpable now but there isn't quite the sense of deliberate deception that is evident at Anglo Irish Bank.

We are pleased that Baker and Barclay have received more than a slap on the wrist as we suspect that in years gone by their misbehaviour would have effectively escaped notice. If this case helps to ensure that accountants in the UK prepare accounts that are honest and truthful, so much the better.

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