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It’s taken awhile, but the SEC filed civil charges yesterday against four former senior executives of Nortel (NT) - CEO Frank Dunn, CFO Douglas Beatty, controller Michael Gollogly and assistant controller MaryAnne Pahapill - for their alleged involvement in cooking the books to trigger a lucrative bonus scheme.

The SEC is seeking a permanent injunction, civil monetary penalties, officer and director bars and disgorgement plus prejudgment interest against all four defendants:

The fraudulent conduct at issue here was egregious and long-running. Each of the defendants betrayed Nortel’s investors and their misconduct gave rise to billions of dollars in shareholder losses,” said Linda Thomsen, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “The action we take today sends a strong message that officers of U.S.-filing foreign corporations will be held to the same standards of accountability that are required of all participants in the U.S. financial markets.

Here are some excerpts from the SEC press release, detailing the allegations:

  • In late 2000, Beatty and Pahapill implemented changes to Nortel’s revenue recognition policies that violated US GAAP, specifically to pull forward revenue to meet publicly announced revenue targets. However, because their efforts pulled in more revenue than needed to meet those targets, Dunn, Beatty and Pahapill selectively reversed certain revenue entries during the 2000 year-end closing process. These actions improperly boosted Nortel’s fourth quarter and fiscal 2000 revenue by over $1 billion, while at the same time allowing the Company to meet, but not exceed, market expectations.
  • In November 2002, Dunn, Beatty and Gollogly learned that Nortel was carrying over $300 million in excess reserves. Dunn, Beatty and Gollogly did not release these excess reserves into income as required under US GAAP. Instead, they concealed their existence and maintained them for later use. Further, in early January 2003, Beatty, Dunn and Gollogly directed the establishment of yet another $151 million in unnecessary reserves during the 2002 year-end closing process to avoid posting a profit and paying bonuses earlier than Dunn had predicted publicly. These reserve manipulations erased Nortel’s pro forma profit for the fourth quarter of 2002 and caused it to report a loss instead.
  • In the first and second quarters of 2003, Dunn, Beatty and Gollogly directed the release of at least $490 million of excess reserves specifically to boost earnings, fabricate profits and pay bonuses. These efforts turned Nortel’s first quarter 2003 loss into a reported profit under US GAAP, which allowed Dunn to claim that he had brought Nortel to profitability a quarter ahead of schedule. In the second quarter of 2003, their efforts largely erased Nortel’s quarterly loss and generated a pro forma profit. In both quarters, Nortel posted sufficient earnings to pay tens of millions of dollars in so-called “return to profitability” bonuses, largely to a select group of senior managers.
  • During the second half of 2003, Dunn and Beatty repeatedly misled investors as to why Nortel was conducting a purportedly “comprehensive review” of its assets and liabilities, which resulted in Nortel’s restatement of approximately $948 million in liabilities in November 2003. Dunn and Beatty falsely represented to the public that the restatement was caused solely by internal control mistakes. In reality, Nortel’s first restatement was necessitated by the intentional improper handling of reserves which occurred throughout Nortel for several years, and the first restatement effort was sharply limited to avoid uncovering Dunn, Beatty and Gollogly’s earnings management activities.
  • Source: SEC Sues Ex-Nortel Employees Involved In Accounting Fraud