Global Crossing Denies Accounting Improprieties
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A storm of scandal -- seething from the nation's capital to the heart of Texas -- has focused American attention as tightly as a laser beam on the seemingly pedestrian subject of accounting practices. As the Bush Administration, Congress, regulators and auditors attempt to answer who knew what, when and where, other companies are being asked to open their books to the light of regulatory scrutiny.
One such company is bankrupt voice and data carrier Global Crossing Ltd., which was asked by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last week to provide corporate documents and a letter written by the company's former vice president of finance.
The letter alleged that Global Crossing and its auditor, Arthur Andersen (one of the parties at the center of the Enron debacle), were inflating pro forma values for cash revenue and adjusted EBITDA by including amounts for which cash were not received or where there had been non-monetary exchanges of capacity. The writer, Roy Olofson, also said it was not proper for the company to have reported those values because the numbers are not measures of cash receipts or earnings.
Olofson's complaints centered around Global Crossings' swapping of IRUs (Indefeasible Rights of Use), long-term contracts for capacity which carriers frequently swap, allowing them to record a new contract as revenue while reporting the outgoing contract as a capital expense. Olofson's complaints targeted that practice, saying Global Crossing mislead investors by utilizing metrics that downplayed capital and interest costs.
Global Crossing said it has provided the documents the SEC requested, and released a statement Monday outlining its version of events regarding Olofson.
The company said it received the letter from Olofson, then vice president of finance for the company, in August 2001.
"After a review of the letter and consultation with outside counsel, the company determined that the financial reporting topics raised in the letter had been reviewed by its internal finance and accounting personnel and by Arthur Andersen in connection with the audit of the company's annual financial statements and its review of the company's interim financial statements," the company said Monday. "The company also determined that there had been appropriate disclosure in the company's press releases and filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission describing how the pro forma numbers were prepared and making it clear that this information should not be considered as an alternative measure of performance defined under GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles). The company also determined that there were reasons to question the motives of Mr. Olofson. Accordingly, no further action was taken in response to Mr. Olofson's allegations."
Global Crossing proceeded to make clear what it felt Olofson's motives were.
"Shortly after Mr. Olofson wrote to the company, and notwithstanding the fact that he was still an employee, the company received a letter from an attorney alleging that Mr. Olofson had been "constructively terminated" from his employment and therefore would no longer be reporting to work," Global Crossing said. "Furthermore, the employee and his counsel demanded, as a condition to dropping his wrongful termination claim, an up-front multi-million payment and a minimum seven-figure annual cash compensation package for a five-year period. After a review of this claim and consultation with outside counsel, the company concluded that this claim was without merit and refused to agree to this demand."
Global Crossing said that Olofson's followed those demands with a draft complaint elaborating on the allegations Olofson first expressed in the August 2001 letter, and the attorney added an allegation that the company delayed the announcement of downward revision to its guidance for 2001 earnings due to recent stock transactions by the company's senior executives. The company said it reviewed those allegations, consulted with outside counsel, and again decided the allegations were without merit.
After that, Global Crossing said that over a period of months Olofson's attorney gradually reduced the settlement demand to an amount less than one-tenth the original demand. Also, the company said that on Nov. 30, 2001, it terminated Olofson's employment "in connection with a substantial reduction in its workforce."
"On Jan. 18, 2002, the company received a letter from a different attorney for Mr. Olofson, attaching a revised draft of the initial complaint and containing renewed threats to commence an action for wrongful termination against the company and certain of its officers and directors unless a multi-million dollar payment was made by Feb. 1, 2002," the company said. "The company again refused to agree to this demand.
However, Global Crossing said that due to the increasing attention focused on accounting improprieties due to "recent events not involving the company," it decided to tell Arthur Andersen about the existence of Olofson's letter on Jan. 28, 2002. It said it provided the accounting firm with a coy on the following day, and also told current members of its audit committee about the letter on that day. It said it gave members of the audit committee copies of the letter On Jan. 30, 2002.
"Although the company continues to believe that Mr. Olofson's motivations are questionable and continues to believe that its accounting and reporting are entirely appropriate, at the request of the company's audit committee and Arthur Andersen, it has decided to form a special committee of independent directors, including members of its audit committee, to conduct a further review of the allegations made in the August 2001 letter and related draft complaints," the company said. "The special committee will retain independent counsel and a firm of independent accountants other than Arthur Andersen to review the matter."
Olofson could not immediately be reached for comment.