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SEC Official Warns Accounting Firms of Legal Liability for Misleading Crypto “Audits”

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued a stern warning to accounting firms, cautioning them against potential legal liabilities arising from statements made by crypto companies that misrepresent partial financial reviews as “audits.” In a prepared statement, SEC Chief Accountant Paul Munter expressed concern about certain crypto asset trading platforms and their claims of engaging accounting firms to perform reviews presented as audits. The SEC’s statement comes in the wake of recent scandals and insolvencies in the crypto industry, emphasizing the need for transparency and accurate representation of financial assessments.

Partial Reviews vs. Audits: A Growing Concern:

Amidst the recent waves of controversies in the crypto industry, certain crypto asset trading platforms have faced scrutiny for promoting partial financial reviews as “audits.” The distinction between these two processes is critical, as partial reviews do not carry the same level of scrutiny and reliability as full audits. Misleading investors with claims of comprehensive financial assessments can have severe repercussions.

Mazars Ceases Work with Crypto Clients:

Mazars, an accounting firm, made headlines after withdrawing its services from crypto clients, including Binance, following public criticism over a partial review of Binance’s books. Binance’s CEO, Changpeng ‘CZ’ Zhao, had touted the partial review as an “audited proof” of reserves. However, the subsequent collapse of FTX due to insufficient reserves raised concerns about the credibility of such reviews. The SEC’s enforcement filings against Binance and Binance US alleged that Binance US did not have adequate assets to cover customer redemptions, despite claims of operating independently from Binance.

Accounting Firms’ Legal Liability under Antifraud Laws:

SEC Chief Accountant Paul Munter emphasized that accounting firms could be held legally liable under antifraud laws for statements made by their clients if those statements mislead investors about the extent of a financial review or the scope of work conducted by the accounting firm. Additionally, any entity providing substantial assistance to another party in violation of the Securities Act or the Exchange Act could be deemed equally liable.

Mixed Reactions:

While the SEC’s warning aims to ensure transparency and protect investors, it has received mixed reactions. SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce questioned the stance on Twitter, encouraging clarity on the differences between audits and partial reviews. Peirce emphasized the importance of good-faith efforts to provide more transparency to customers.

Promoting Accountability and Transparency:

As the crypto industry faces increased scrutiny, promoting accountability and transparency in financial reporting is crucial to building trust among investors and stakeholders. The SEC’s warning serves as a reminder for accounting firms and crypto companies to adhere to industry best practices and accurately represent the nature of financial assessments conducted.

 

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