Feds Sue Chinese Audit Firms

The Securities and Exchange Commission is going after the Chinese affiliates of five major accounting firms. The firms are responsible for auditing the books of other Chinese companies whose securities are publicly traded in the U.S. The SEC says the auditing firms have refused to cooperate with its investigation of accounting fraud.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

NPR's business news starts with questions for Chinese regulators.

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The United States has accused five Chinese auditing firms of violating U.S. securities laws. A lawsuit says the auditors are refusing to turn over documents tied to companies that the U.S. wants to investigate.

NPR's Jim Zarroli has the story.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: The suit, which was filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, says U.S. officials want to investigate nine unnamed Chinese companies for unspecified reasons. Officials say that because these companies trade on U.S. stock exchanges, they have to turn over their audit documents to American regulators.

But China insists that doing so would violate its own rules about corporate secrecy and has steadfastly refused to do so. The dispute has dragged on for several years with no resolution, says James Feltman, senior managing director of Mesirow Financial Services.

JAMES FELTMAN: It doesn't appear as though this is going to get resolved anytime soon. And ultimately, if Chinese listed companies in the U.S. can't meet the requirements, then they're not going to be able to continue to be listed on U.S. exchanges.

ZARROLI: But the U.S. isn't ready to lower the boom yet and Feltman called yesterday's suit a measured response by the SEC - an attempt to ratchet up the pressure on China.

Caught in the middle are the auditing firms, which are all affiliates of major U.S. accounting firms, like KPMG and Deloitte. One of the firms, which is tied to Ernst and Young, issued a statement yesterday saying it wanted to comply with the rules and hoped the dispute is resolved soon.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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