KPMG’S TEFLON MAN
Though he played an influential role at the Gupta-linked auditing firm for many years, former chairman Yunus Suleman has somehow managed to stay out of the spotlight
In all the career-destroying fuss surrounding KPMG’S “substandard” work relating to the Guptas and the SA Revenue Service, one key player has remained unscathed, indeed unnoticed. Yunus Suleman didn’t even receive a passing mention in the headline-grabbing mea culpa released by KPMG in late September. That confession followed a supposedly comprehensive investigation into allegations of irregularities and misconduct and identified eight partners who were forced to resign, including chairman of the board Ahmed Jaffer.
Jaffer had taken up the chairman’s position only in 2016. CEO Trevor Hoole, who had taken over from Moses Kgosana as CEO in May 2016, was also one of the departees.
That Suleman got no mention was remarkable, though perhaps not entirely surprising. Suleman, who was the audit firm’s front man for years, was appointed chairman of KPMG in 2007 and remained in that position until March 2015. He joined the firm as a partner in 2002 at around the same time the Guptas became KPMG clients. Suleman was one of the four KPMG partners who attended the Gupta wedding in August 2013.
In its September mea culpa KPMG said it should have resigned as auditors earlier than March 2016. “KPMG regrets that its association with the Guptas and their business entities went on for far too long,” said KPMG International.
While Hoole and Kgosana have become veritable household names, it is almost impossible to find anyone able to link Suleman’s name with KPMG.
He is currently a nonexecutive director of three major Jse-listed companies, Tiger Brands, Liberty Holdings and Gold Fields. None of these companies’ annual reports reveals that Suleman was previously chairman of KPMG. This seems a significant oversight given that until 12 or so months ago it was a title worth flaunting in the small community of nonexecutive directors. The CVS provided by each of the three companies merely refer to Suleman’s auditing expertise. No mention is made of him being a partner at a major audit firm, let alone being the chairman of one of the big four.
In July 2016 Gold Fields’ chair at the time, Cheryl Carolus, said his appointment offered the company a strong financial and governance skills set, “as he has extensive experience in the auditing profession and has worked in various capacities with listed companies in the SA retail, financial services, oil & gas and manufacturing sectors.”
Much further on in the press statement, after mention of his other directorships including Albaraka Bank, is a cursory reference to his previously being chair of KPMG.
Suleman is on the audit committee of each of the three listed companies. At Gold Fields he is also on the social and ethics committee, the risk committee and the safety, health and sustainability committee. At Tiger Brands he is also on the risk and sustainability committee.
Suleman had been with Arthur Andersen for 20 years until 2002 when chunks of it were integrated with KPMG following the Enron-scandal-induced collapse of Arthur Andersen. Shortly after his appointment as chairman, KPMG appointed Kgosana as chief executive. In an insightful interview with
Alec Hogg in 2012 Suleman says the appointments reflected KPMG’S focus, which was “to make sure we have a totally black leadership team and that we commit to transformation in a much bigger way than we’ve ever done before 2007. That set the platform to where we are today.”
Sygnia’s Magda Wierzycka believes this could touch on the much bigger prize that was at stake in the Gupta business. “It was about getting access to the huge volumes of government work.”
The Financial Mail was unable to get comment from Suleman and KPMG was understandably curt in its response to a number of questions posed. One thing seems certain: even if KPMG believed Suleman played a key role in the Gupta relationship, it is not going after him.
A spokesman for the audit firm said Suleman’s retirement, at 58, from the firm was not connected to the Guptas. He said Suleman retired because he “wanted a second career as a nonexecutive director and to pursue his own interests.”
Kgosana has not been as lucky as Suleman. Since the Gupta e-mail leaks exposed “questionable” behaviour, he has resigned from most of his directorships, including Imperial, Famous Brands and Alexander Forbes.
What it means: While Yunus Suleman’s departure from KPMG seemed linked to the Gupta scandal, the auditing firm said he was leaving to pursue his own interests