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KPMG Netherlands fined $25 million for widespread exam cheating

The US audit regulator, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), has fined KPMG Netherlands a record $25 million (around £20m) after it found that hundreds of the firm’s staff, including senior partners and managers, cheated on professional exams.

Additionally, the firm’s former head of assurance, Marc Hogeboom, was banned for life from working for a US public company auditor and was given $150,000 (around £120,000) civil money penalty.

The PCAOB investigation revealed that KPMG staff shared exam questions and answers for mandatory internal tests covering US auditing standards, professional ethics, and conflict-of-interest management over at least a five-year period until 2022. The misconduct reached the highest levels of the firm, including Mr Hogeboom.

KPMG Netherlands fined $25 million for widespread exam cheating

The regulator also said KPMG Netherlands’ chief executive, Stephanie Hottenhuis, failed to promptly inform anyone about the firm’s inaccurate submissions to PCAOB investigators.

“Today’s orders should send a signal to firms and their leadership that they have a responsibility to set an appropriate tone at the top, particularly with regard to issues of integrity and personnel management,” said Robert E. Rice, director of the PCAOB’s division of enforcement and investigations.

Ms Hottenhuis said: “I deeply regret that this misconduct happened in our firm. Our clients and stakeholders deserve our apology.

“They count on our quality and integrity as this is our role in society, with trust as our licence to operate.

“Trust is essential in our business, and we must learn from this and make a change in our culture and behaviour.”

The PCAOB and the Dutch Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM) conducted parallel investigations, and the AFM has separately imposed enhanced supervision measures under Dutch law aimed at preventing recurrences.

KPMG Netherlands stated that staff and partners involved in the answer-sharing have been sanctioned, and the firm has implemented new controls to monitor the completion of training tests.

Cheating on internal exams has been a persistent problem across the Big Four accounting firms, with EY, Deloitte, and KPMG’s businesses in the UK and Colombia also facing sanctions for similar issues.