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