General Electric Co. (GE), which two years ago paid an estimated $32 billion to combine Baker Hughes Inc. with its oil and gas unit to create a mammoth oilfield services enterprise, is fighting back after an accounting expert claimed the conglomerate has obfuscated financial issues and filed inaccurate reports with federal regulators.
Harry Markopolos, an accountant who was one of the first to question disgraced financier Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi schemes and fraudulent Security and Exchange Commission filings, made his claims in a 175-page research report, asserting GE has committed $38 billion in accounting fraud.
GE’s scheme is “the biggest, bigger than Enron and WorldCom combined,” Markopolos wrote. “In fact, GE’s $38 billion in accounting fraud amounts to over 40% of GE’s market capitalization, making it far more serious than either the Enron or WorldCom accounting frauds.”
Markopolos called the conglomerate “GEnron,” because it is “using many of the same accounting tricks that Enron did.”
In response, GE said the “claims made by Markopolos are meritless” and said it stood behind its financial reporting.
“The claims made by Mr. Markopolos are meritless,” said a GE spokesperson. “The company has never met, spoken to or had contact with Mr. Markopolos, and we are extremely disappointed that an individual with no direct knowledge of GE would choose to make such serious and unsubstantiated claims.
“GE operates at the highest level of integrity and stands behind its financial reporting. We remain focused on running our businesses every day, following the strategic path we have laid out.”
Markopolos, GE noted, “openly acknowledges that he is compensated by unnamed hedge funds. Such funds are financially motivated to attempt to generate short selling in a company’s stock to create unnecessary volatility.’”
The report, GE said, “states that his company ‘entered into an agreement with a third-party entity to review an advanced copy of the report in exchange for later-provided compensation...those positions taken by the third-party entity are designed to generate profits should the price of GE securities decrease’ and ‘members of the company are personally in possession of securities, derivatives, and/or other financial instruments of, and/or relating to, GE, which may generate profits should the price of GE securities decrease.’”
The comparison to Enron Corp. and WorldCom, the former telecommunications giant, each disgraced by massive accounting fraud scandals and each ending in bankruptcy, was startling.
Houston-based Enron, the trailblazer and one-time giant of North American natural gas trading, went out in a blaze of infamy in late 2001 following irregularity disclosures initially triggered by whistleblower claims. Top Enron executives, including CEO Jeff Skilling and CFO Andrew Fastow, were sentenced to prison on charges that included securities fraud, false statements to auditors, insider trading and conspiracy; Chairman Kenneth Lay was also found guilty on 10 counts but he died of a heart attack before he was sentenced.