The U.S. SEC files a lawsuit against the auditor firm responsible for reviewing the financial statements of FTX, one of the world’s leading cryptocurrency exchanges. The SEC’s move comes amid growing concerns over the transparency and accountability of the cryptocurrency industry, highlighting the regulatory challenges facing this rapidly evolving sector. The SEC claims that Prager Metis, an auditing firm hired by the defunct crypto exchange FTX in 2021, is accused of numerous violations pertaining to auditor independence, numbering in the hundreds.
SEC Alleges Violation of Auditor Independence Standards
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has initiated legal action against an accounting firm that previously served the cryptocurrency exchange FTX before its bankruptcy filing. As per a statement issued on September 29th, the SEC has accused Prager Metis, the accounting firm in question, of conducting auditing services for its clients while failing to uphold the required independence standards, a practice strictly prohibited under the auditor independence framework.
To avoid conflicts of interest, it is crucial to maintain a clear separation between accounting and audit responsibilities. Nevertheless, the SEC asserts that these intertwined activities persisted for an extended duration, spanning approximately three years.
“As alleged in our complaint, over a period of nearly three years, Prager’s audits, reviews, and exams fell short of these fundamental principles. Our complaint is an important reminder that auditor independence is crucial to investor protection.”
FTX Connection Emerges in Auditor Independence Violations
Although the statement doesn’t directly refer to FTX or any specific clients, it underscores the existence of numerous auditor independence violations, totaling in the hundreds, over the three-year duration. Moreover, a prior legal document highlighted that FTX Group had enlisted the services of Metis to conduct audits for FTX US and FTX during a certain period in 2021. Subsequently, FTX filed for bankruptcy in November 2022.
The document alleged that given the former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried’s public disclosure of previous FTX audit outcomes, Metis should have anticipated that its work would be utilized by FTX to enhance public confidence.
Scrutiny Widens: Concerns Surrounding FTX Audit Reports and Legal Services
Concerns have previously surfaced regarding the content within FTX audit reports. On January 25, the current CEO of FTX, John J. Ray III, expressed significant reservations about the information contained in these audited financial statements during a bankruptcy court hearing.
Additionally, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ron Wyden voiced apprehensions regarding the impartiality of Prager Metis, contending that the firm operated more as an advocate for the crypto industry. Simultaneously, recent scrutiny has fallen upon a law firm that provided services to FTX.
In a court filing dated September 21, plaintiffs allege that the U.S.-based law firm Fenwick & West should bear partial responsibility for FTX’s downfall due to its purportedly extensive service offerings to the exchange, exceeding industry norms.
Nevertheless, Fenwick & West asserts that it cannot be held liable for a client’s misconduct as long as its actions remain within the boundaries of its client representation.
The SEC files lawsuit against FTX auditor Prager Metis, the auditing firm connected to the FTX cryptocurrency exchange, shines a spotlight on the critical issue of auditor independence within the cryptocurrency industry. Allegations of hundreds of violations spanning over three years, combined with previous concerns about FTX’s audit reports and the perceived partiality of auditing firms, underscore the need for enhanced transparency and regulatory oversight in this rapidly evolving sector. The outcome of this case will likely have significant implications for how auditing firms engage with cryptocurrency exchanges and the broader crypto industry. It highlights the imperative for a clear separation of roles, rigorous adherence to audit standards, and the establishment of a robust regulatory framework to protect investors and maintain the integrity of the digital asset ecosystem.