Weatherford International plc, the fourth largest global oilfield services operator, agreed to pay a $140 million penalty to settle charges that it inflated earnings by using deceptive income tax accounting, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said. Two former senior accounting executives settled claims that they were behind the scheme.
"Weatherford denied its investors accurate and reliable financial reporting by allowing two executives to choose their own numbers when the actual financial results fell short of what was previously disclosed to analysts and the public," said SEC's Andrew Ceresney, who directs the enforcement division. "This case is part of our continued focus on financial reporting and disclosure fraud."
According to the order, the Swiss-based operator fraudulently lowered its year-end provision for income taxes by $100 million to $154 million each year to "better align its earnings results with its earlier announced projections and analysts' expectations."
Weatherford's former vice president of tax, James Hudgins, and Darryl Kitay, who was a tax manager, "made numerous post-closing adjustments to fill gaps and meet its previously disclosed effective tax rate (ETR), which is the average rate that a company is taxed on pre-tax profits.
"Weatherford regularly touted its favorable ETR to analysts and investors as one of its key competitive advantages, and the fraud created the misperception that Weatherford's designed tax structure was far more successful than reality," the order said. "Weatherford was consequently forced to restate its financial statements on three occasions in 2011 and 2012."
The company and two former executives did not admit or deny that they violated antifraud provisions of federal securities laws.
Weatherford agreed to pay a $140 million penalty, while Hudgins was ordered to pay a $334,067 fine and Kitay is to pay a $30,000 fine. Hudgins is barred from serving as an officer or director of a public company for five years, and he and Kitay are suspended from appearing and practicing before the SEC as accountants, which includes not participating in financial reporting or audits of public companies. The order permits Hudgins and Kitay to apply for reinstatement after five years.
The SEC said its investigation is continuing.