Grant Thornton was forensic auditor on Greensill-GAM probe

Accountancy group in UK had complex interests regarding collapsed finance group

Grant Thornton, the administrator to the collapsed Greensill Capital, was previously hired to investigate the supply chain finance group’s relationship with Swiss asset manager GAM, according to sources..

Grant Thornton, the administrator to the collapsed Greensill Capital, was previously hired to investigate the supply chain finance group’s relationship with Swiss asset manager GAM, according to sources..

 

Grant Thornton, the administrator to the collapsed Greensill Capital, was previously hired to investigate the supply chain finance group’s relationship with Swiss asset manager GAM, according to sources..

The revelation raises concerns about conflicts of interest for Grant Thornton over Greensill, which collapsed in March and has morphed into a corporate and political scandal.

The accountancy firm’s work for Zurich-based GAM was part of an internal probe which examined the asset manager’s relationship with Greensill and led to the dismissal of one of its star fund managers.

Complexity

Adding a further layer of complexity, while conducting a forensic audit of Greensill deals on behalf of GAM in 2018, Grant Thornton was separately working for one of Greensill’s biggest and most problematic customers, GFG Alliance, for which it was paid nearly £6 million(€6.96 million ) from 2016 to 2020.

GAM was a major investor in supply chain finance deals arranged by Greensill, including providing hundreds of millions of dollars to metals magnate Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG.

Grant Thornton’s previously unreported role at GAM raises questions about the level of knowledge it had about GFG and Greensill. GFG’s relationship with Greensill is now subject to a Serious Fraud Office probe.

GFG-linked investments formed part of the internal investigation at GAM, which began after a whistleblower in 2017 raised concerns about the Greensill-arranged deals, many of which were highly illiquid.

Star trader Tim Haywood, who managed more than $7 billion ( €5.7 billion ) of assets for GAM, was suspended in July 2018, pushing the asset manager into crisis as some investors rushed to make redemptions.

GAM later liquidated its flagship fund range which invested in such securities, and the following year dismissed Haywood. The internal probe’s findings alleged serious flaws in the company’s due diligence in relation to the Greensill deals.

GAM’s management in late 2017 hired law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner to review the whistleblower allegations, with Grant Thornton brought in to conduct forensic audit work.

In the spring of 2018, the whistleblower took his concerns to the Financial Conduct Authority.

Grant Thornton was also engaged as a forensic auditor on a parallel probe, which examined how Greensill obtained shares in a GAM-managed supply chain finance fund.

Activity

This part of the internal probe was based on a separate and previously unreported suspicious activity report filed in August 2018. This SAR questioned the transfer of these shares from a Dubai-based subsidiary of US commodities trading firm Bunge to Greensill. Bunge did not respond to a request for comment.

Greensill’s 2017 accounts show that it acquired the shares “in consideration for assuming a matching payment obligation. . . of $1.2 billion”.

Grant Thornton has not publicly disclosed its role in the GAM investigation.

Greensill subsequently hired Grant Thornton in late 2020 to provide it with restructuring advice as the lender became increasingly concerned about its precarious financial position.

Greensill collapsed in March this year, leaving funds at Credit Suisse, which like GAM had invested in the supply chain finance group’s loans, nursing a potential $3 billion loss.

The Financial Times has previously reported that Grant Thornton, in its capacity as administrator of Greensill, was unable to verify some of the invoices underpinning Greensill’s lending to Gupta, which were purportedly issued by companies that said they had never traded with Gupta’s Liberty Commodities.

Grant Thornton had previously worked for Greensill as an auditor of at least two entities. Lex Greensill told the UK’s parliamentary treasury select committee that Grant Thornton ceased working for Greensill when it acquired a Germany-based bank in 2014. Greensill Bank’s management is now subject to a criminal probe.

Grant Thornton has also acted on behalf of a number of entities forming part of Gupta’s GFG, which is now seeking a bailout after the collapse of Greensill, its biggest lender.

Administrator

Ahead of being appointed as administrator to Greensill, Grant Thornton told the High Court in London that it had undertaken about 80 “diligence related instructions” in the past few years for GFG. According to a court filing, it was paid £5.8 million from 2016 to 2020 for this work.

The Sunday Times previously reported that Grant Thornton’s work for GFG included providing advice on Gupta’s $500m acquisition of an aluminium smelter in France in 2018.

Grant Thornton also revalued assets that GFG bought from Rio Tinto for £330 million in 2016 upwards to £565 million. The higher valuation, according to the Sunday Times, alongside a Scottish government guarantee over 25 years, aided GFG to raise substantial amounts of debt, which Greensill then securitised and sold to GAM.

Grant Thornton said that before accepting the administration mandate, it had given “careful consideration to the code of ethics relating to such matters” and satisfied itself that there was “no threat to its independence as a result of any prior relationships”. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021