UK's accounting watchdog launches probe into audit of NMC Health

Financial Reporting Council is investigating EY's handling of the company's last set of full-year accounts

FILE PHOTO: General view of NMC specialty hospital in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo

The regulatory body for accountancy practices in the UK, the Financial Reporting Council, is investigating EY's 2018 audit of NMC Health, the UAE's biggest private healthcare company that was placed into administration last month.

"On 15 April 2020 the Financial Reporting Council opened an investigation into the audit by Ernst and Young of the financial statements of NMC Health for the year ended 31 December 2018," the regulator said in a statement on Monday. The investigation will be conducted by the FRC's Enforcement Division under the Audit Enforcement Procedure.

Investigations into NMC Health are taking place both in the UAE and the UK, as the company was listed on the London Stock Exchange until its shares were suspended in February after an independent investigation of the company highlighted "suspected fraudulent behaviour". The UK's Financial Conduct Authority announced its own investigation into the company in the same month.

In a statement sent to The National on Monday, EY confirmed it had been notified of the FRC's intention to launch an investigation into its audit of the company for the 2018 financial year.

"We will be fully cooperating with the FRC during their enquiries. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time," a spokeswoman for the accountancy firm said.

NMC Health was placed into administration last month following a petition from its largest lender, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, but its hospitals, clinics and pharmacies are continuing to operate.

Problems at the company were first highlighted after short seller Muddy Waters Research issued a report in December arguing the company had inflated cash balances, overpaid for assets and understated its debt.

ADCB petitioned for administrators to be appointed after the company disclosed its debt pile stood at $6.6bn, materially higher than the $2.1bn reported in the company's last set of accounts.

Last month ADCB said it "initiated criminal legal proceeding with the Attorney General in Abu Dhabi against a number of individuals in relation to NMC Health Group".

Last week, NMC’s founder BR Shetty said “serious fraud and wrongdoing” appears to have taken place at the company, as well as at currency and payments group Finablr and at several of his privately-owned companies.

“This fraud also appears to have been undertaken by a small group of current and former executives at these companies,” Mr Shetty said.

The fraud involved the creation of bank accounts, loans and personal guarantees in his name, he said, which he "neither authorised, consented to, or had any knowledge of".

Finablr, which is also listed on the London Stock Exchange, reported on Friday that its debt is almost $1bn higher than previously reported. It has debts of $1.3bn, as compared with $334.1 million in its last filed accounts for the six months to June 30, 2019.

EY resigned as auditor of Finablr on March 29, citing "concerns arising out of recent events at the company and NMC Health … the composition of the board of the company, the adequacy of corporate governance concerns and the recent issues that have caused the company to commission an independent review" of its finances, including related party transactions and off-balance sheet debts.

Mr Shetty still co-chairs and is majority shareholder of Finablr. The company said EY informed it a number of changes have to be made to the composition of Finablr board, as a condition of it continuing to act as its auditor.

Finablr said its board had been "unable to accommodate EY's requirements in full in the time allowed to them".