SSL offers details of irregularities in accounts to the Fraud Office

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The Independent Online

SSL International, the condom and rubber gloves group, yesterday revealed that it has been in touch with the Serious Fraud Office over the company's investigation of past mis-stated accounts.

Brian Buchan, appointed chief executive this year, also said that senior former members of staff had been interviewed in SSL's examination of the irregularities.

External forensic accountants KPMG and lawyers DLA have been brought in to investigate false sales and profits in the 1999 and 2000 accounts.

Mr Buchan said he could not at this stage talk about the involvement of particular individuals and added: "It's pretty clear this was not one person acting in isolation. There were a series of people involved."

Reporting full-year figures yesterday, which included a restatement of the 2000 results, Mr Buchan said the inquiry into past mis-statements had been finalised on the numbers involved and would now move onto "the who and how" of the irregularities.

The company said yesterday in the 25 months to 31 March 2000, £22m of the sales and £19m of the profits reported at the time did not actually exist.

Mr Buchan said a criminal investigation was not currently under way. "We've communicated to the SFO [Serious Fraud Office] that we are prepared to offer information. We have to assume that this will lead to the sharing of information."

The company said Arthur Andersen remained its auditors but pointed out that that role would be put to the vote at this year's annual general meeting, as a matter of routine.

Mr Buchan said the findings of the accounts investigation may be passed to the regulators of Arthur Andersen, the Institute of Chartered Accountants.

The auditing firm said it could not comment while the investigation continued. "They clearly did not spot what occurred, but that goes for a lot of people at the company," Mr Buchan said.

SSL shares closed up 6 per cent at 560p, as reported operating profit increased 14 per cent to £114.2m for the year ended 31 March.

The company said it needed to concentrate more on its core brands ­ Durex condoms, Scholl footwear and Regent Biogel medical supplies ­ and dispose of other businesses. This could include Marigold rubber gloves, which Mr Buchan said did not fit with the company's healthcare focus. Marigold sales were reported down across all regions.

Marigold "is a very satisfactory business," he said, "but it is in a different category to our top three brands, and it does not use the same distribution chain."

SSL said it would spend £10m to £20m more this year on marketing the core brands.

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