Outlook: Maxwell ruling
Wednesday 03 February 1999
It would be nice to think that auditors, like law firms, are nothing if not objective when dealing with clients. Sadly, the lure of fat fees makes it all too easy for them to become part of the process rather than a natural check on corporate excess.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers is standing by the four senior partners singled out by the JDS on the grounds that they were "victims of deliberate deceit" as if this were something auditors should not be on the lookout for.
PwC has already salved its conscience by helping bale out the pension funds plundered by Maxwell while the pounds 3.5m in fees and costs levied by the JDS, though a record sum, represents a mere flea bite for the world's biggest accountancy firm.
More serious is the damages claim that PwC's 8,500 partners face from the receivers of the Maxwell empire. But it will be a miracle if this ever reaches court and even then, the big five accountancy firms have a mutual insurance policy to deal with embarrassments like this.
The acid test is whether the JDS's admonition prevents another Maxwell scandal. A more effective sanction would have been to make an example of those partners involved.
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