Big Four firm sued for catalysing Singapore trading collapse


Recently this month, the second-best global accounting firm, Deloitte, underwent allegations for its supposed role in failing to detect ‘serious irregularities’ when auditing its financial statements for more than a decade. [1] Hin Leong Trading is the oil trading firm that has sued their accountancy firms for its downfall. They collapsed in the wake of the crude-price crash and allegations of forged documents being used to secure funding from banks. This consequently led to the firm and its subsidiary Ocean Bunkering, formerly one of Singapore’s top marine fuel suppliers, to be caught in the legal chaos too. [2] The crude-price crash refers to the historic price of oil falling greatly like never before. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in April U.S. crude plunged deep into negative territory. [3] Deloitte audited the books of Hin Leong Trading for at least 16 years before the firm collapsed in 2020 and now the failed oil trader owes creditors more than $3.5bn in suing Deloitte and Touche. [4]

The descent of the oil trading form was triggered in 2020 after wrong-way energy bets that led to one of the biggest collapses in the Asian city-state. These types of bets are bad from the bookmaker's perspective. [5] Consequently, there were many trading losses in response to this and therefore increased demands for loan repayments by banks. There were several banks included in this, 20 to be precise, including HSBC Holdings and Singapore’s DBS Group Holdings.

The lawsuit suggested that during Deloitte’s auditing, they issued “unqualified opinions” for Hin Leong’s financial statements from 2014 through 2019. The suit also claimed that the firm was defaulting as it was unable to pay its own debts since at least 2012 and that the assets mentioned were overstated. Later, Hin Leong claimed that “Deloitte knew or ought to have known that these banks and financial institutions were intended users of the plaintiff’s audited financial statements'' and that the statements “led to various banks and financial institutions being grossly misled as to the financial health and state of affairs''. [6] In hindsight, it meant that Deloitte had essentially allowed the oil firm’s financial statements to seem fine whilst other banks and institutions relied on this and now they have been deceived as they continued to provide finance to the firm even though they are in no healthy shape to return the money.

The lawsuit also states that if Deloitte had carried out the audits of the plaintiff’s financial statements properly then they would have been able to detect the material misstatements, leading them to not give poor, financial opinions. As this didn’t happen, “the fraudulent trading and unlawful actions by the directors and former managing director” of the firm would have surfaced much earlier. This legal situation outlined the clear problems of misinterpreting a company's health and doing nothing about it as numerous financial institutions and banks fell victim to this as well as the company itself. The mishandling of the situation prolonged for years on end without Deloitte sensing any urgency to change it, allowing more money to be unlawfully distributed until a final collapse. Ultimately, Deloitte’s auditing is in the wrong and is facing the fair allegations required.