English ICA forced to give up Agip files

The English ICA has been obliged to give a report to Labour MP Austinr’s ‘request’. Mitchell on the activities of chartered accountants involved in the $17.9m (#10.8m) Agip money-laundering affair.

The institute confirmed this week that its professional conduct department would send the report to Mitchell, following a ‘request’ by Department of Trade and Industry minister Ian McCartney. Institute officials stressed the report was due to be sent in the next few weeks on the understanding it would remain confidential.

It first produced the report for the DTI in 1994, but was not under any statutory obligation. Requests by Mitchell to see the report then were refused.

An institute spokeswoman said it would not publish the report or pass it to any firms mentioned in it.

The decision to give Mitchell a document with detailed allegations of money laundering is certain to make the profession apprehensive. Mitchell has campaigned for years to persuade governments to increase the responsibilities of accountants to report their suspicions of fraud and money laundering.

Observers said the decision to hand over the report was likely to be part of the institute’s campaign to fight off statutory regulation, and show the proposals for a Review Board put forward earlier this month would bring greater openness among accountants.

The Agip case dates back to the late 1980s, when a series of murky transactions between the African subsidiary of the Italian oil company and a variety of ‘cut-off’ companies were uncovered. Cash payments began in Tunisia and wound through France to the Isle of Man.

At a trial in 1990, High Court judge Mr Justice Millett criticised Isle of Man-based chartered accountants Jackson & Co and Grant Thornton, which referred clients to the firm from its London office. The role played by Coopers & Lybrand was also reviewed by the institute.

A Grant Thornton spokesman said the firm had not been informed officially that Mitchell would receive the report. ‘We are surprised the institute has released the report to a third party without releasing it to others. We were exonerated by the institute, but have never seen the report and cannot comment further.’

Jackson & Co and Coopers were unavailable for comment.

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