UK watchdog probes PwC audit of housebuilder Berkeley

LONDON Mon Sep 16, 2013 2:23pm BST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's accounting watchdog said it had opened an investigation into whether PricewaterhouseCoopers was acting independently when it checked the books of UK house builder Berkeley Group Holdings Plc.

The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) said on Monday the probe would look at PwC's audit of Berkeley's financial statements for the year ended April 30, 2012, as a result of a former PwC partner joining Berkeley's board.

PwC, still Berkeley's auditor, confirmed it had received a letter from the FRC saying an investigation has begun.

"We will continue to fully cooperate with the FRC's enquiries. We take our independence responsibilities very seriously," PwC said in a statement.

Berkeley Chairman Tony Pidgley said he was told on Friday about the investigation into the role of non-executive director Glyn Barker.

"As far as we're concerned Glyn has had a very distinguished career and we are very pleased to have him on the board," Pidgley said.

Barker joined Berkeley's board in January 2012 after a 35-year career at PwC, serving most recently as the accountant's UK vice chairman.

A source with knowledge of the matter said Barker was not on the team that audited Berkeley in the two years prior to his departure from PwC. During those two years Barker asked Berkeley for feedback on PwC's performance as auditor, the person said.

Berkeley shares were down 0.5 percent at 1245 GMT, lagging the broader UK stock market. Its shares have risen by a fifth this year on the back of the relative resurgence in the British housing market, particularly in London where the company is focused.

(Reporting by Huw Jones and Tom Bill; Editing by David Holmes and Sophie Walker)

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