SEC Enforcement Action Against Investment Adviser Highlights Importance of Conducting Due Diligence on a Hedge Fund’s Auditor to Avoid Fraud

Although hedge fund investment decisions are based on numerous factors, information relating to a hedge fund’s financial condition and performance results remains a critical component of any such decision.  See “Legal and Operational Due Diligence Best Practices for Hedge Fund Investors,” Hedge Fund Law Report, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Jan. 5, 2012).  Various parties have a hand in creating and confirming the information that goes into financial statements and performance reporting.  Those parties include the manager, the administrator and the auditor.  Many investors pay particularly close attention to reports from auditors because of the rigorous standards governing the accounting profession and the presumably uniform application of those standards across different contexts.  However, information about a hedge fund provided by an accountant is only as good as the accountant itself.  A good accountant can provide, directly or indirectly, good information to an investor – even though the accountant’s duty typically does not flow to the investor – while a bad accountant can provide a false sense of security or, worse, cover for a fraud.  Indeed, a recurring feature of frauds in the hedge fund industry is an accountant that does not exist, is much smaller or less experienced than claimed or that is affiliated with the manager.  An accounting firm that was both fictitious and affiliated with the manager was a notable feature of the Bayou fraud.  See “Recent Bayou Judgments Highlight a Direct Conflict between Bankruptcy Law and Hedge Fund Due Diligence Best Practices,” Hedge Fund Law Report, Vol. 4, No. 25 (Jul. 27, 2011).  A fraudulent auditor and fictitious financial statements also featured prominently in a recently filed SEC action against an investment adviser.  This article summarizes the SEC’s Complaint in that action and describes five techniques that hedge fund investors can use to confirm the existence, competence and reliability of hedge fund auditors.

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