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Barings auditors face action by watchdog

THE LEADING British accountancy watchdog has made public complaints against Coopers & Lybrand (now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers) and two of the firm's partners over the audit of Barings, the merchant bank that crashed three years ago.

Chris Dickson, executive counsel to the Joint Disciplinary Scheme (JDS) for supervising accountancy firms, said the complaints concerned the accounts of Barings Securities Limited and Barings Securities (London) Limited for the year to December 1993 and the same audits for the following year.

The first complaint is against Coopers & Lybrand and Gareth Davies, the second is against the same pair plus Andrew Turner. A disciplinary tribunal consisting of a senior lawyer and two senior accountants will hear the complaints next year, and the tribunal's report will be published.

A spokesman for PWC saidyesterday: "Any case that large, you would expect them to look at it. We are not surprised. We will co-operate fully."

Barings crashed in 1995 after unauthorised derivatives trading by Nick Leeson in Singapore led to over pounds 800m in losses. The merchant bank was later bought by the Dutch bank, ING.

The debacle led to a purge of senior Barings executives and disciplinary action against several by British regulators. It also resulted in claims by the firm's liquidators and bondholders who lost money as a result of the bank's demise.

Barings' liquidators, Ernst & Young, took legal action two years ago against PWC as well as Deloitte & Touche, the bank's previous auditors in 1992. A settlement or "Conciliation Plan" was proposed to the liquidators by the two audit firms in March, thought to be worth between pounds 30m and pounds 50m. This is being considered by the bank's creditors.

Mr Dickson has also investigated PWC's role as auditor of Robert Maxwell's empire.A tribunal led by Roger Henderson QC will hear Mr Dickson's complaints about the Maxwell audits later this month.