“Mamie Cassoulet” had taken her secret to her grave in November 2016. A year later, in 2017, it came to light. Monique Piffaut, owner of William Saurin cassoulets, Garbit couscous and Madrange hams, had mounted one of the biggest accounting frauds in the French industry. With false invoices, she had inflated her accounts by 300 million euros on a turnover of more than 1 billion.
This Monday, September 28, begins the hearing of the High Council of Auditors (H3C), the regulatory body of the profession, which must rule on the liability of auditors, including Mazars and PwC, who for years have certified the accounts of Monique Piffaut’s company, Financière Turenne Lafayette. The H3C can issue an exercise ban and impose fines. But his opinion will also be decisive in the investigation against X opened last April by the justice system, leading to a possible indictment of the auditors.
This is not the first time that this profession responsible for certifying the accounts of companies each year has found itself in the trap of a financial scandal. The company EY, ex-Ernst & Young, is thus being sued in Germany for its role in one of the largest post-war scams, with the resounding bankruptcy of the start-up Wirecard in June 2020. A fraud exceeding one billion euros, flushed out by investors and journalists for years but which did not alarm the financial experts responsible for verifying the accuracy of the accounts of this payment specialist on the Internet. In Britain too, business has been chained, often involving the same listeners.
Conflicts of interest
William Saurin, Wirecard, Carillion, Autonomy… Why haven’t they seen anything? We are not police officers, they plead. However, they are neither altar boys, nor SMEs without means. In its last fiscal year 2019-2020, PwC generated sales of $ 43 billion, up 1.4% despite the health crisis. This question is not new and the rules are raining down on this profession, which is concentrated around a few global players: those we call the big four, PwC, EY, Deloitte and KPMG, as well as great figures like Mazars, the French number one in the field.
To limit the power of what looks like an oligopoly, they have been prohibited from combining auditing and consulting, a source of multiple conflicts of interest. But it was not enough. Regulatory and sanction bodies have been created, and in the United States, sanctions have been further increased. Recall that the world number one of the 1990s, Arthur Andersen, disappeared body and goods in the collapse of the Enron scandal in 2002.
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