Deloitte, Ernst & Young, abandon Andersen talks

Two Big Five accounting firms have stepped back from rescuing competitor Arthur Andersen after its involvement with Enron's...

Two Big Five accounting firms have stepped back from rescuing competitor Arthur Andersen after its involvement with Enron's collapse.

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and Ernst & Young International have decided to abandon their plans to buy all or parts of fellow Big Five accounting firm Arthur Andersen, whose survival is in question as a result of its role in the collapse of energy trader Enron.

Deloitte and Ernst & Young separately entered into preliminary discussions with Arthur Andersen recently to explore scenarios for acquiring all or parts of the embattled company. But the legal problems and liabilities that Arthur Andersen faces prompted both suitors to end the talks on Wednesday (12 March).

"Deloitte was unable to continue to the next stage of discussions due to Andersen's unresolved litigation and legal issues," Deloitte said, adding that it hoped Arthur Andersen would find a way to survive as an independent company.

"After reviewing the possibility of combining with Andersen, Ernst & Young has concluded that as long as Enron and other Andersen litigation matters are unresolved, it is not in the best interests of our people, clients, and our firm to pursue such a combination," Ernst & Young said in a statement.

Chicago-based Arthur Andersen was Enron's auditor, and its involvement in the fall of the energy giant - including the shredding of documents and allegedly improper accounting practices - has won the accounting firm civil lawsuits, an exodus of important clients and employees, and, according to published reports, investigations from US federal government agencies, including the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the US Department of Justice.

This week, an independent oversight board, created by Arthur Andersen to reform the company's operations, mandated that the accounting firm stop offering consulting services not related to auditing, including most of the firm's IT consulting services.

How Arthur Andersen chooses to rid itself of its consulting practices, including the IT services team, is up to the company, the board said. Options would include selling the consulting units to other companies or spinning them off into independent companies.

No one from Arthur Andersen was available for comment.

Read more on IT legislation and regulation