The Kuwait Investment Office (KIO) scandal : a study of auditing and audit expectations in an international context
Auditing has grown substantially in recent times, expanding into different parts of the world through a network of international audit firms (dominated mainly by the Big Six or more recently the Big Five). The growth of auditing and audit firms has not been hindered significantly by consistent criticism, doubts and debates about the value of the auditing function and what it can deliver in countries with long established audit traditions. Much of such criticism and debates usually surface in the aftermath of major financial scandals and corporate collapses and have increasingly been captured of the term of the "audit expectation gap" -a phrase referring to the difference between what auditors perceive as their duty and what the users of financial statements expect from auditors. Research has examined the main elements of the audit expectations gap, including the nature of assurance, audit reporting, auditor independence and regulation/liability of auditors. Few research studies, however have focused on examining the audit function through a case study of a major financial scandal. Even fewer studies have paid attention or researched the audit function in non- Anglo-American contexts. This is the primary aim of the thesis. To explore such a research area, this study uses the scandal that surrounded Grupo Torras, the Kuwait Investment Office's (KIO) investment holding group in Spain. The collapse of the group in 1992 offers the opportunity to examine auditing in Spain, a country with notably high expectations of auditing in recent times, and Kuwait, a developing country recently having returned to democracy. The issue of the audit expectations gap in Kuwait is also explored using a questionnaire survey of the views of auditors, directors and users in Kuwait. Such survey represents the first comprehensive survey of auditing expectations in the Gulf region - an increasingly significant economic area given the growth in oil revenues. The case study reveals different response to the scandal. In Spain, criticism and debates started to surface immediately after the scandal while in Kuwait no major criticism or debate about the audit function has taken place. The case study shows how auditing was unable to cope in a complicated financial and political environment, where senior powerful managers, were involved in mismanagement and fraud. Despite the limitations of the auditing function in practice, the questionnaire survey shows only a limited audit expectations gap in Kuwait and considerable degree of satisfaction among people in Kuwait with auditing. This shows that the image of auditing is mostly based on perception rather than on its ability to perform in practice and raises a range of important issues for the future, especially giving the growing doubts about the uniform nature of auditing service provided by "multinational" audit firms.