* Two more companies with potential accounting weaknesses
* Carlyle China portfolio huge vs rivals
* Carlyle says is patient long-term China investor
By Rachel Armstrong
SINGAPORE, July 25 (Reuters) - Two more companies in the Carlyle Group’s China portfolio have had questions raised about potential weaknesses in their accounting practices or financial controls, bringing further scrutiny to the private equity firm’s investments across the country.
Carlyle, with more companies in China than any other private equity firm, is not alone in having to sort out parts of its portfolio. Several other major foreign players there have been caught up in various accounting issues that surfaced in the last few months.
In Carlyle’s case, though, two China companies seized headlines this year in high profile accounting-related cases, dealing a blow to the Washington D.C.-based firm’s image.
Two other Carlyle companies in China have come under scrutiny in the last few months as well. While questions raised at Carlyle’s Concord Medical Services and China Energy Recycling are less serious than the two high profile cases, they have gained the attention of major auditors.
Last month, Ernst & Young said in the annual report of Carlyle investment, Concord Medical Services , that the China-based company has not maintained effective internal controls over its financial reporting due to a lack of staff with knowledge of U.S. accounting rules.
And in April this year, U.S-listed China Energy Recycling had to refile its 2009 annual report after it omitted to set out a full enough assessment of its internal controls in line with SEC requirements.
A Reuters examination of China Energy Recycling’s SEC filings show auditor Deloitte raised a series of questions about the company’s accounting practices in 2009. Deloitte’s contract as auditor was terminated due to a misunderstanding after just three months.
Two other Carlyle investments have already hit the headlines after becoming the subject of fraud investigations.
Hong Kong-listed China Forestry shares have been suspended since January following allegations of accounting irregularities. The company is now in the process of trying to rebuild investor confidence and offered earlier this month to buy back up to $120 million of bonds.
China Agritech was delisted from Nasdaq in May for failing to file its annual report on time. An independent investigation is now looking into allegations made by short-sellers that the company misled investors about the size of its fertilizer business.
Carlyle remains an investor in the company, although its board representative, Anne Wang, resigned as a director in March.
Carlyle told Reuters that it is committed to helping all companies in its Chinese portfolio become international names.
“We are long-term investors in China and are committed to creating value for all our portfolio companies,” said Carlyle’s Hong Kong-based spokeswoman Dorothy Lee.
“It takes experience, patience and persuasion to guide portfolio companies on their path to internationalization.”
Carlyle, with $107 billion under management, has been very active in China and is currently invested in 31 companies, a huge amount compared to other competitors that have two or three to their name.
Carlyle’s investment in China Pacific Insurance , could be one of its most successful of all time. .
The firm has invested in companies such coffee and doughnut chain Dunkin’ Brands, rental car company Hertz and UK pharmacy chain Alliance Boots. In Asia, Carlyle invests its buyout, growth capital and real estate funds across the region.
In Greater China, it has offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.
DELOITTE’S SHORT STAY China Recycling Energy, which until 2007 was a mobile phone company called China Digital Wireless Inc, went public on the over-the-counter bulletin board in the U.S. via a reverse takeover in 2004. In March 2007 it changed business models, moving into the energy saving and recycling industry. Eight months later it said Carlyle was to invest, causing its share price to almost double from $1.67 to $3.05. The company announced in May 2009 it was changing auditor and bringing in Deloitte Touche Tohamatsu, one of the world’s “big four” accounting firms. “This also marks one of the rare instances in which Deloitte has agreed to provide services to a micro-cap Chinese company, demonstrating CREG’s (China Recycling Energy Group) ability and commitment to implement internal financial controls that meet global standards,” the company’s CEO and Chairman Guohua Ku said in a press release.
Three months later, Deloitte wrote to the company saying it considered itself dismissed after China Recycling Energy announced its previous auditor, California-based Goldman Parks Kurland Mohidin (GPKM), was going to prepare its second quarter report.
Deloitte then flagged that during its brief stint as auditor it had identified five different areas of “potential misstatements” for the company’s 2007 and 2008 results.
The issues raised by Deloitte were technical points, including how the company accounted for revenue from the leasing of its energy recycling systems.
Deloitte said it had discussed this and other issues with Carlyle’s nominee on China Energy Recycling’s board, Nicholas Shao, yet did not feel they were resolved at the time its contract ended.
China Energy Recycling did then restate its 2008 earnings, although the company indicated that in some areas it and auditor GPKM disagreed with some of Deloitte’s points.
While the issues raised by Deloitte were highly technical, the company’s restated 2008 earnings meant it booked a loss for the year instead of profit as originally reported.
“Net income of $1.8 million originally reported turned into a loss of $2.2 million. That is a pretty significant change,” said Paul Gillis, visiting professor of accounting at Peking University and a former partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“There is no indication, however, that the company was trying to deceive anyone or that any kind of fraud was taking place.”
Gillis added that it is common for a “big four” auditor such as Deloitte to uncover these kind of issues that smaller accounting firms might have missed.
China Energy Recycling subsequently transferred from the over-the-counter market to the main Nasdaq global board although its share price has fallen 64 percent since the move, last trading around $1.98.
The company said in SEC filings that Deloitte has done some consulting work for them since their audit contract ended, although Deloitte’s Hong Kong spokesman Wilfred Lee said they could not confirm this due to client confidentiality.
Concord Medical Services, which Carlyle has been invested in since 2007, released its 2010 annual report on June 29, one day before the final deadline for U.S.-listed stocks.
In the report auditor Ernst & Young, Hua Ming said the lack of appropriate staff in its accounting unit with required knowledge of U.S. accountancy standards meant the company “had not maintained effective internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2010.”
This is a fairly common problem for China-based companies listing in the U.S.
“China is really short of qualified accountants to begin with, and there are not nearly enough with U.S. GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) expertise for all of the Chinese companies listed in the U.S,” said Peking University’s Gillis.
The company, which operates radiotherapy and diagnostic imaging centres in China, has flagged this as an internal weakness ever since it went public in December 2009 and repeatedly said it is trying to remedy it.
Its shares have also struggled. Having priced its IPO at $11.00 a share, its