BCCI auditors set to face dollars 8bn claim

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A RECORD dollars 8bn (pounds 4.5bn) claim is expected to be lodged shortly against Price Waterhouse and Ernst & Young, former auditors of the collapsed Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

In writs filed in March, Touche Ross, the BCCI liquidators, alleged negligence, breach of duty and breach of contract by the two firms over BCCI's 1985 audit.

The claim could be as much as 25 times the professional indemnity insurance cover held by the two firms, according to accountancy sources, and will far exceed the largest previous damages suit against a UK auditor.

KPMG Peat Marwick settled out of court for pounds 40m over its audit of the Ferranti subsidiary International Signal and Control, where a huge fraud was discovered.

Touche also issued writs in March against Ernst & Young over its 1986 audit, but the details of the suits have awaited the statement of claim, which is due in the next few days.

The statement of claim has been drawn up in close co-operation with the Abu Dhabi authorities who were majority shareholders in BCCI, and with their legal advisers.

This is because Abu Dhabi is to take over the legal actions from the liquidators if a settlement to be put to creditors is approved.

The settlement, which has been delayed by court actions, includes an Abu Dhabi payment to the liquidator in return for an indemnity against future legal actions against the Gulf state by creditors.

Abu Dhabi will also share with the liquidators half the proceeds of legal actions against the auditors and others - including, possibly, the Bank of England, which it is also threatening to sue.

Abu Dhabi has been bitterly critical of PW, alleging that while acting as BCCI auditor on the shareholders' behalf it also secretly helped the Bank of England in investigations that led to BCCI's closure.

The animosity is so great that sources close to the Abu Dhabi authorities have made clear that they intend to pursue the claim intensively and will resist an early out-of-court settlement of the kind that has characterised recent suits against auditors.

The main writ against the two firms named 36 defendants in Britain, Grand Cayman, the Bahamas, Luxembourg and Belgium, including Ian Brindle, senior partner of PW, and Elwyn Eilledge, senior partner at Ernst & Young, the successor firm to Ernst & Whinney, which signed the BCCI audits.

The indications have been that Abu Dhabi is less concerned about Ernst & Young, which audited the Luxembourg arm of BCCI until 1986, than about PW.

The following year Ernst handed over to PW, which was already the auditor of the Cayman Island arm of BCCI and the bank's treasury. PW became worldwide auditor for the bank.

The claim against the two firms is likely to be based on an estimate of dollars 10bn of losses against which around dollars 1bn of assets have been discovered.

Ernst & Young said that it was expecting the statement of claim in early October, but had not so far received anything. It repeated its statement last March that the claims were 'totally misconceived' and were being pursued at the expense of depositors and creditors.

The firm also said that the principal problems within BCCI were in transactions booked in the Cayman Islands of which Ernst & Whinney had never been auditors.

Price Waterhouse said it was confident it had done an extremely professional job in its auditing and that the claims had no merit.

A complication is that PW may in effect have an indemnity covering the later part of the BCCI saga through the commissioning of a Section 41 report on the fraud by the Bank of England, in March 1991. But it is not clear whether this will have a material effect.

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