“We cannot just go to a big company like Fuji Xerox and reconstruct their entire accounts and business for years on end; we really have to be focused on where we think that the misdoings or the misdeeds are occurring and work on that,” says Julie Read, chief executive and director of New Zealand’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
The SFO began looking into Fuji Xerox New Zealand (FXNZ) in October 2016, after the company reported a pre-tax loss of $51 million for the year. Two months later, the office closed its inquiry saying it would take no action.
The investigation was relaunched a year later after parent company Fujifilm released a report revealing that “inappropriate accounting” at its FXNZ and Fuji Xerox Australia (FXA) subsidiaries had overstated revenues by about $A450 million between 2011 and 2016.
The independent report said former FXNZ managing director Neil Whittaker had been paid more than $1 million to leave his job as MD of FXA after the accounting irregularities were uncovered. Fuji Xerox’s chairman Tadahito Yamamoto, deputy president Haruhiko Yoshida and directors Katsuhiko Yanagawa and Jun Takagi all resigned following the release of the report.
Fuji Xerox NZ, Fuji Xerox Finance and Fuji Xerox Asia Pacific filed joint civil proceedings in New Zealand’s High Court against three former senior executives – Whittaker, former FXNZ managing director Gavin Pollard and former chief financial officer Mark Allright. That case is continuing.
|Julie Read, CEO & director, SFO|
In a parliamentary Justice Committee annual review of the SFO, National Party MP Chris Bishop asked chief executive and director Julie Read - a former ASIC Special Counsel (Litigation) - whether she accepted criticism about the office’s low rate of prosecutions.
“There are very few matters that we take on that we don’t prosecute,” Read told the committee. “Some matters, like Xerox—Fuji Xerox—we took a look at that initially and found that there was not enough presently available to us without actually reviewing the entire records of that company, and that’s just not a feasible proposition.
“It went away and some more work happened, and it came back to us, and we took it on. So we have to be a bit selective about that. One of the things that I think that the Serious Fraud Office is really good at compared to other departments in New Zealand and compared to our overseas counterparts is scoping an investigation.
“We cannot just go to a big company like Fuji Xerox and reconstruct their entire accounts and business for years on end; we really have to be focused on where we think that the misdoings or the misdeeds are occurring and work on that. If we can’t do that, as was the case initially with Fuji Xerox, then there’s not much we could do. So that matter went away, and some more work was done by auditors and accountants, and when it came back we had a greater capacity to focus an investigation on the misconduct.”
Read told the committee that despite a heavy workload, her office was spending “quite a lot of time” on the Fuji Xerox case.
“The Serious Fraud Office remains extremely busy with some really large matters at the present time—so, for example, CBL Insurance, estimated at $750 million in five countries. Things like Xerox are also matters that we are spending quite a lot of time on, in addition to a number of matters of similar size and complexity which are not in the public domain.
“Many people think that both fraud and corruption are things that belong in the third world or developing countries, but that’s not strictly the case. And even though we have a really good reputation and one worth holding on to, we do have issues in New Zealand—issues, in particular, with things like conflicts of interest, patronage, cronyism, nepotism. We also have issues with procurement, overpayment to suppliers, fraudulent claims for benefits and applications for public grants. Whereas you might see commissions paid to corrupt public servants in other countries, this is a different scenario. We’re in a really good place, but there are things that we can do to protect our reputation.”
The SFO told Wide Format Online the Fuji Xerox investigation was “ongoing” but no further details were available.
“The SFO does not disclose the detail of ongoing investigations to protect the integrity of the investigation and those involved,” said a spokesperson. “At the conclusion of an SFO investigation, the Director of the SFO will make a decision to prosecute or not to prosecute.”