Is China Minzhong saying it keeps 2 sets of books?


Published September 08, 2013

First published in Business Times, September 5, 2013

CHINA Minzhong has provided a succession of rebuttals to the allegations of US-based short seller Glaucus Research Group, including highly detailed ones on Sept 1 and 3, complete with extracts of source documents. Although its efforts in rebutting the allegations are commendable, they are unlikely to completely dispel the concerns raised by Glaucus. The source documents provided by the company can understandably provide only a partial picture of the true situation.

While the company has cited the fact that it has consistently received clean opinions from its external auditors and that the auditors have not withdrawn their opinions, the auditors themselves have been silent. Given the well-known challenges faced by auditors in China and the fact that all of China Minzhong’s business is conducted through subsidiaries there, the auditors may be reluctant to bet their partners’ bonuses that the allegations of Glaucus are totally without basis. It is likely that only a comprehensive special audit will be able to dispel all the concerns raised by Glaucus, but we cannot realistically expect a company to commission a special audit each time allegations are made about its financials.

Unfortunately, China Minzhong’s latest announcement on Sept 3 contains statements that may not help its cause in dispelling concerns. It stated that “Glaucus’s assertion that documents that are publicly available are more reliable than those not in the public domain is flawed. The public information was not obtained independently by the regulators but based on our filings. Where there is inconsistency in information, it is only logical to look to the source documents to verify the truth . . . for SAIC (State Administration for Industry & Commerce) filings, given the purpose and intention of such filings, the key consideration is to ensure that the company operates within its permitted business scope and duly informs SAIC of changes to its registered particulars”. It stated that it places great emphasis on the accuracy of accounts which affect its tax liability but appears to admit that its SAIC filings may be inaccurate. Is this a public admission that it is keeping two sets of books? Rather disconcertingly, it does not seem to see anything wrong with filing inaccurate information in order to comply with regulatory requirements.

Given that the company’s filings to SAIC in China may be inaccurate, how can investors be sure that its financial statements and announcements to the Singapore Exchange here are really true and fair, especially when it is clear that regulatory enforcement is easier for Chinese authorities than for Singapore authorities? China Minzhong’s statement also confirms the challenges of doing proper due diligence for Chinese companies using publicly available information, even those filed with regulatory authorities in China, and once again highlights the risks of investing in Chinese companies.

Mak Yuen Teen

Associate professor

NUS Business School

 

 

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