The little-known research company, Iceberg Research, made headlines this week with a so called independent report and research into the alleged accounting irregularities of Hong Kong commodity trading firm Noble Group.
The report with the sensationalist title "Noble Group, a Repeat of Enron" accuses the company of attributing far higher value to its shares in several associate companies than their market worth.
Furthermore, the research company claims to have found a $600m ‘hole’ in the way Nobel Group accounts for its shares in Australian coal miner Yancoal alone.
The report is in particular critical of Noble Group’s auditor, EY, as it accuses the Big Four firm of being complicit in a system it believes allows auditors to comply with IFRS while deliberately misleading shareholders.
IAB was able to contact Iceberg Research group and an anonymous spokesperson told the publication that although EY may have "formally respected" IFRS rules, "when the carrying value is so far away from the economic value, it is time to either revisit the IFRS rules or to put pressure on the auditors so that they do not hide behind technicalities."
The allegations of accounting irregularities it contained caused Noble’s stocks to fall by almost 13% this week, in a chain of events culminating in the Monetary Authority of Singapore officially stating it would be reviewing Iceberg’s report into Noble.
In a statement to the Singapore Stock Exchange, where Nobel is listed, yesterday, Noble said it "completely rejects" the allegations made against it by the research firm.
Although the commodity firm has borne the brunt of the fall-out from the report, Iceberg’s focus seems at least in part levelled at the business’s auditors.
The group’s "About Us" page reads: "Complacent auditors are rarely subjected to fines despite their role in a growing number of accounting scandals. Too often, they validate fraudulent or highly misleading accounts, and discreetly write their "reserves" at the end of the annual report.
"We locate these notes in the financial documentation in order to provide a complete picture for investors."
Responding to the claims this week, Noble added: "The Group reports its results in accordance with IFRS, and the annual financial statements for 2013 and prior years have been audited by Ernst & Young who issued unqualified opinions."
Describing the role of the business’s auditors in Noble’s case, Iceberg’s report states: "Ernst and Young (EY), is well aware of the issues, but discreetly writes its reserves in the annual report to avoid future legal liabilities."
A spokesperson for Iceberg told IAB: "What is also striking is the number of times the auditor hides behind the management’s estimates. We have a very common sense issue with this: what is the point of an audit if anything of importance is the responsibility of the management?
The spokesperson for Iceberg also added: "What I can also add is that EY has been the auditor of Noble since 1994 at least. It is time to implement some rotation rules in Asia as this creates a number of issues (for Noble but also for many other companies in Asian markets)."
The report is the first in a three-part series set to be published by Iceberg research and more information on the role of the auditors is set to be included in the third one, according to its spokesperson.
Little is known about the report’s authors, who are quoted by CNBC as saying they published the findings because "it is the right thing to do" and have taken to Twitter to state: "we confirm that at this point we have no short interest in Noble Groub (directly or indirectly)."
EY were unable to comment on the allegations.