NEWS
05/06/2018 04:48 SAST

Almost One Year Later: What Has Become Of KPMG?

On Monday, KPMG announced that 400 people will lose their jobs. How did this once-credible firm reach this point?

Charles Platiau / Reuters

It has been almost a year since leaked emails from the Gupta business empire revealed global auditing firm KPMG's fingerprints all over controversial deals -- a finding that culminated in some of the auditor's big South African clients jumping ship and the company having to downsize its operations in the country.

On Monday, KPMG announced it will be retrenching around 400 employees while its international parent will be dispatching senior executives to South Africa to help manage the fallout.

The firm said in a statement that it will close "certain regional offices" and will in future only operate out of four regional hubs in Johannesburg, Cape Town Durban and Port Elizabeth. A number of changes in the leadership team will also be rung, with executives from overseas to be "embedded" into the local leadership structure "for an extended period".

But how did the firm, previously held to a high level of credibility, reach this point? It started in July last year when the link between KPMG and the Guptas began to unravel.

An investigation by amaBhungane and Scorpio claimed KPMG "played a crucial role" in permitting the "diversion of [R30-million] cash" meant for the controversial Estina dairy project in the Free State to the Gupta family for a lavish wedding at Sun City in 2013.

The investigation reportedly showed that a Gupta-owned company, Linkway Trading -- which paid for the wedding of the Guptas' niece -- invoiced another Gupta company for the wedding expenses which was allegedly permitted by KPMG when its books were audited.

A closer look at leaked emails from within the Gupta business empire found more discrepancies.

It showed, at the time, that KMPG provided services to the family and at least 36 companies linked to them, to an extent of playing a role in the Guptas' acquisition of Optimum Coal mine and the Shiva Uranium mine.

Aside from its links to the Guptas, KPMG soon after released a bombshell statement in which it withdrew its investigation into the so-called SA Revenue Service's "rogue unit".

Sars boss Tom Moyane seemingly used the disavowed report as part of the justification for his alleged witch-hunt of members of the high-risk investigation unit (HRIU) – the so-called "rogue unit", actually an effective and successful arm of Sars at the time – in 2014 and 2015. This led to the dismantling of the unit and the departure of numerous senior staff members and experienced forensic investigators.

After the firm admitted to doing "work that fell considerably short of [its] standards", Trevor Hoole, its CEO at the time, tendered his resignation and a number of leadership changes were made. Afterwards, the firm began bleeding clients. Sygnia Asset Management, Sasfin bank, Gold Fields, Barclays Africa and Telkom were some of the big names to ditch the auditors.

The recent restructuring is mostly a result of this, but the firm says it still has 130 partners and 2,200 employees in the country.

It is now hoping that with the intervention of its international parent body at the top structures, it will be able to rebuild its integrity and credibility in the South African market.