PwC Facing New Investigation

The Finance Ministry will soon launch an investigation into auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov said in an interview Tuesday.

"Very soon an investigation into [PwC's] license terms and requirements will be opened, and it will be carried out by the Finance Ministry," Shatalov said in an interview with Interfax, which was published on the ministry's web site.

A PwC spokeswoman said the firm, which is fighting back tax claims and has been fined for allegedly mishandling audits of bankrupted oil firm Yukos, complied fully with Russian auditing standards.

Two auditing organizations have already concluded checks into whether PwC's Russia unit was complying with Russian standards, Shatalov said in the interview, without elaborating.

Finance Ministry spokeswoman Irina Yeshova declined to comment on why PwC was facing an investigation, or when it would begin.

The PwC spokeswoman said the review by the Russian Auditors' Chamber and the Institute of Professional Accountants and Auditors, which was commissioned by the Finance Ministry, "did not identify any significant issues which indicate that PwC was not in compliance with Russian legislation."

"We have not been in contact with the Ministry of Finance regarding the next steps yet," added the spokeswoman, who declined to be identified in line with company policy.

The announcement of the new investigation came the day after PwC lost a second appeal against back tax charges. The Moscow District Arbitration Court on Monday upheld an earlier ruling that obliged the firm to pay 380 million rubles ($16 million) in back taxes for allegedly falsely declaring the hiring of non-Russian employees.

In January, PwC lost a separate appeal on charges that it had violated professional standards while conducting Yukos audits from 2002 to 2004, allowing the oil firm to evade taxes. That charge carried a fine of 16.8 million rubles ($715,000).

Lawyers for Yukos have said the charges against PwC are a means of pressuring the firm to cooperate with authorities as former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev await new trials on charges of fraud and embezzlement. The two men are already serving eight years in prison on charges of tax evasion.

Last June, PwC's Moscow office withdrew all audits carried out on Yukos from 1995 through 2004, following a March raid on its office by nearly a dozen police officers and investigators.

The Kremlin has been eager to paint the Yukos case as a Russian equivalent of Enron, likening the jailing of Khodorkovsky to the downfall of Enron chief executive Kenneth Lay. That case also prompted the collapse of Arthur Anderson, a leading global accounting firm.

Yukos was declared bankrupt in August 2006, felled by $33 billion in back tax charges. Its assets were sold off in a series of forced auctions, and its main production units went to state-run Rosneft, often at well below market prices.