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April 30, 2008

Investor group seeks ?30m from Deloitte Netherlands

Dutch financial reporting watchdog the Foundation for Investigation of Business Information (Stichting Onderzoek Bedrijfs Informatie – SOBI) has filed a €30 million ($44.5 million) claim against Deloitte Netherlands.

SOBI plans to file an additional claim against Deloitte US within the coming weeks, the watchdog’s chairman, Pieter Lakeman, told IAB. While the total compensation sought by investors currently involved in the claim is about €30 million, Lakeman expects more claimants to join the final total sought to be much higher. The claim led by SOBI is open to all shareholders who bought their shares after 7 March 2001, when Deloitte Netherlands signed off on Ahold’s annual report for 2000. SOBI is filing the claims on behalf of a group of shareholders who suffered losses in Dutch retailer Royal Ahold’s 2003 fraud scandal.

In February 2003, Ahold’s share price crashed after investigations revealed large-scale fraud, concerning the overstatement of vendor allowances at its former subsidiary, US Foodservice. Deloitte Netherlands was Ahold’s auditor at the time and signed off on its annual report. Deloitte US audited the figures from US Foodservice, which was then consolidated into Ahold’s results and signed off by the Dutch firm.

Following the revelation of the fraud, SOBI made a series of complaints against Deloitte Netherlands before the disciplinary board in the Netherlands. In March 2007, the board handed down its findings, which ruled against Deloitte in one part of the four-part case. At the time, Lakeman said the ruling against Deloitte found the Big Four firm had done a “bad job” auditing the report. Deloitte Netherlands appealed the findings and the hearing is set to go before the court on 18 March 2008.

A Deloitte Netherlands spokesperson said the firm always acted professionally and with integrity in the Ahold case. As soon as Deloitte became suspicious of side-letters at Ahold and fraud at US Foodservice, Deloitte “did what it had to do”, the spokesperson said.

Carolyn Canham and Nicholas Moody

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