Disgust at Smith ruling

The English ICA was condemned from all sides this week for its decision not to expel disgraced ex-minister and chartered accountant Tim Smith for misconduct.

Some of the strongest condemnation came from the institute’s own members, scores of whom wrote in or telephoned its Moorgate Place headquarters to complain about the decision to fine Smith #1,000 with #2,150 costs, for taking #18,000 from Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed.

In business, a poll of 200 finance directors for Accountancy Age’s ‘The Big Question’ found more than half (52%) thought Smith should have been expelled. Only one in ten of the FDs surveyed agreed with the institute’s decision.

ICA president Chris Laine, who has not commented publicly on the penalty, was said by insiders to have been alarmed at the public impact of the decision but had no powers to overturn it.

The #1,000-fine was the highest penalty short of expulsion available to the committee, because the events took place before 1990 – when its powers to fine were increased.

The reaction of many FDs was summed up by Stuart Chapman of the International Baccalaureate organisation, who said Smith’s conduct had fallen below that required of a professional accountant and he had ‘forfeited the right to membership of the institute.’ Peter Harris of Oxford-based Evenlode Truck Centre was more cynical: ‘He made a good profit on the #18,000 less the fine and costs,’ he said.

Reaction at Westminster was mixed. Former Labour trade spokesman Jim Cousins, MP for Newcastle Central, backed the penalty but complained the institute had taken too long to bring the case to its disciplinary tribunal.

Workington Labour MP Dale Campbell-Savours also supported the institute, arguing that Smith had already paid ‘a very heavy price’ for what he had done. But David Taylor, Labour MP for Leicester North West and a CIPFA accountant, said Smith had been ‘fortunate to escape as lightly as he has.’

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