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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June, 2004, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
The Andersen Files
First there was Enron then Worldcom, two titans of the American corporate world that have crashed losing billions with accusations of financial chicanery and fraudulent figures. The Money Programme examined the two companies' auditor - Arthur Andersen - and discovered a history of failure.

The common factor at both Enron and Worldcom was that both their accounts were approved by Arthur Andersen, once the world's biggest accountancy firm. As these crashes sent tremors through the world's financial system it transpired that the firm had a long history of failing to blow the whistle on influential clients.

toothless regulator

They were the watchdog that never barked and their story shows just why the American corporate system is currently in such disarray.

Now Andersen will never issue another misleading audit statement again. Following the firm's conviction for obstruction of justice over the Enron scandal, it has been banned from auditing American companies. Andersen partnerships around the world have been sold to competitors, as partners scrambled to escape the complete collapse of the firm. From next month Andersen will cease to exist. It is a stunning end to its 100-year history.

This was an auditing firm which last year turned over $9bn, and which held itself out as the 'gold standard' of the accountancy trade. When orphan-boy Arthur Andersen founded the firm 1913, he made a point of insisting on the highest ethical standards. Auditing company accounts meant keeping clients on the straight and narrow, and if saying 'no' meant losing a client, so be it. Andersen staff regarded themselves as the Marine Corps of the business.

But in fact Andersen has had a long history of compromised audits stretching all the way back to DeLorean in the early 80s. The Money Programme interviewed Richard Measelle, the partner who oversaw the DeLorean audits, and who later ran the entire firm, as Andersen's Worldwide Managing Partner from 1989 to 1997.

During those years, as the programme details, there was a string of major frauds at Andersen clients who were given clean audits, including Sunbeam, Waste Management, and the Baptist Foundation of Arizona.

American tragedy

According to lawyer Sean Coffey who sued Andersen on behalf of investors, "This is an American tragedy. For decades Andersen was renowned as the company that could say no to a client, but somewhere along the way, Andersen became a firm that couldn't say no to a client, and in fact said, 'how can we help you do it'".

This programme was first transmitted on Wednesday 23rd July 2002.




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