A Disciplinary Committee of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) has permanently removed Deborah Annells from the register of CPAs following a conviction of 45 offences of theft, one offence of fraud, and one offence of possession of a false instrument.
Annells controlled a group of companies in Hong Kong which provided trust and tax advisory services. HKICPA enquired into various complaints lodged by Annells’ clients and a former employee.
Complaints included the use of trust monies dishonestly and for unauthorised purposes, failing to separate client funds from the funds of practices, the use of forged documents or making misleading statements to clients regarding the integrity of application of their funds, theft of client funds, and allegedly making disparaging remarks about the services of a former CPA employee.
While the committee’s disciplinary process was underway, Annells was prosecuted in both the District and High Courts of Hong Kong and sentenced to nine years imprisonment in July 2016 for the offences of theft, fraud, and possession of a false instrument.
The Committee found that for her acts relating to trust monies and client funds, Annells was in breach of the fundamental principles of integrity, professional competence and due care and professional behaviour. The Committee further found that Annells was guilty of professional misconduct and dishonourable conduct.
The breaches concerning trust monies and client funds are noted as being at the most serious end of the potential range of misconduct by a CPA. Annells’ lack of remorse and financial benefit from the breaches, the absence of restitution to the clients, and number of clients affected were noted by HKICPA as being additional aggravating factors.
The Committee removed Annells from the register of CPAs on 15 November 2018 but the press release detailing this was put on hold due to Annells indicating she wished to appeal the decision. As of 5 March no appeal was lodged.
In addition, the Committee ordered Annells to pay partial costs of the disciplinary proceedings. The amount will be determined after the parties’ submission on that issue.
By Asena Degirmenci