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Lehman Brothers Autopsy: Repo 105, and Why Auditors Have Some Explaining to Do

Officials inside and outside Lehman Brothers say there were unaware of the company's accounting sleight of hand. But the auditing firm Ernst & Young signed off on the books and is coming under criticism for its role in the financial crisis.

If you haven't already watched it, Marketplace has a great video explaining Repo 105, a shady accounting maneuver through which Lehman Brothers hid its financial troubles for so long before finally filing in 2008 for the largest bankruptcy in U.S history.

Repo 105 from Marketplace on Vimeo.

As business reporters sniff through Anton Valukas' 2,200-page "coroner's report" on Lehman, here's a look at all the people who've denied they knew anything about the "Repo 105" scam.

  • Dick Fuld, Lehman's former CEO:
    "Mr. Fuld, for example, denied knowledge of the effect of the Repo 105 transactions or that the firm removed assets from its balance sheet. A footnote in the report states that Mr. Fuld’s lawyer informed the examiner that he did not use a computer and only accessed e-mails on his BlackBerry but could not open up attachments, including one that went into the Repo 105 deals in March 2008." (from The New York Times)
  • Tim Geithner, current Treasury secretary and former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York:
    "Secretary Geithner 'did not recall being aware of' Lehman’s Repo 105 program, but stated: 'If this had been a bank we were supervising, that [i.e., Lehman’s Repo 105 program] would have been a huge issue for the New York Fed.'" (from Zero Hedge)
  • Jan Voigts and Arthur Angulo, examining officer and senior vice president, respectively, within the New York Fed's Bank Supervision Department:
    "Jan Voigts, who was an examining officer in FRBNY’s Bank Supervision Department, had no knowledge of Lehman removing assets from its balance sheet at or near quarter-end via a repo trade treated as a true sale under a United Kingdom opinion letter. Arthur Angulo, who was a senior vice president in FRBNY’s Bank Supervision Department, likewise was unaware that Lehman engaged in repo transactions at quarter-end, under a United Kingdom true sale opinion letter, where the assets would be returned to Lehman’s balance sheet following the end of the reporting period. Angulo said that the described repo transactions appeared to go 'beyond other types of [permissible] balance sheet management.'"(from Zero Hedge)
    "New York Fed officer Jan Voigts explained to Valukas that since the Federal Reserve did not regulate Lehman, 'how Lehman reports its liquidity is up to the SEC and the world.'" (from DailyFinance)
  • Thomas Baxter, general counsel for the New York Fed:
    "Baxter was generally aware of firms using quarter-end and month-end 'balance sheet window-dressing,' but did not recall this being an issue linked to Lehman specifically." (from Zero Hedge)

One party that isn't asserting total ignorance: Ernst & Young, which earned $31 million from auditing the firm in 2007. The report found the auditors could be "negligent" for signing off on Lehman's books, and despite maintaining that Lehman's financial statements in 2007 were "fairly presented in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)," the firm has now been subjected to criticism for its role in a financial crisis that has generally been spun as the fault of banks and regulators, rather than auditors.

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