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(Reuters) — KPMG LLC has agreed to pay a $50 million penalty over allegations former staffers used stolen information to alter some of the accounting firm's previous audit work and cheated on training exams, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said on Monday.
KPMG admitted to the SEC's allegations and agreed to hire an independent consultant to assess the firm's ethics and integrity controls, as well as its compliance related to abuse of the exams issued by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, the SEC said in a statement.
The firm's "accountants engaged in shocking misconduct – literally stealing the exam – in an effort to interfere with the PCAOB's ability to detect audit deficiencies at KPMG," said Steven Peikin, one of the SEC's enforcement directors.
While Congress created the accounting board to police the work of public-company auditors, the SEC retains the authority to inspect auditors on its own.
Former PCAOB staffers have also been charged for making unauthorized disclosures related to KPMG's audits.
SEC Chairman Jay Clayton ordered his staff in January 2018 to monitor the auditor in relation to alleged misappropriation of PCAOB information.
He added on Monday that the agency "stands ready to work with issuers" to ensure that potential collateral effects to shareholders is minimized.
The case, which includes one of the highest SEC fines ever imposed on an auditor, will be scheduled for a public hearing before an administrative law judge, who will prepare an initial decision regarding potential remedial actions, the agency said.
U.K.'s Financial Reporting Council has fined Dutch consultancy firm KPMG International nearly $8 million for insufficient audits of U.K.-based insurer Equity Syndicate Management Ltd., Reuters reported. The regulator imposed the fines following investigations into the insurer's brand – Equity Red Star – for accounts dating back to 2007. Equity Red Star crashed to a $358 million Australia ($253 million) loss in 2010 after failing to set aside enough cash to cover claims.