£150m bonanza for Shell auditors

Accountants who failed to spot Shell's massive overbooking of reserves were paid more than £150m in the past five years by the embattled oil giant.

Most of the fees paid to KPMG and PwC were for lucrative consultancy work rather than the basic audit, which spectacularly missed major shortcomings in Shell's own internal financial controls.

However, Shell says it has no plans to change its auditors, who will stand for re-election at next month's annual meeting.

The Financial Mail on Sunday has established that Shell pays more in audit fees than any other blue-chip UK company.

Last year, the company spent $32m (£17.5m) for the main audit and $24m in consultancy fees, according to accounts just published.

Chairman Sir Philip Watts, exploration chief Walter van de Wijver and finance director Judy Boynton lost their jobs this year after Shell slashed oil and gas estimates by five billion barrels.

KPMG and PwC face questioning by the Securities & Exchange Commission, the US financial regulator, over their role at Shell.

A damning report into the reserves fiasco by the American law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell found that 'aggressive' booking arose because Shell's internal reserves audit department was 'understaffed and undertrained'.

The report added: 'The function was performed by a single, part-time former Shell employee', with almost no training in regulatory issues.

The report also revealed that Shell bosses were aware for years that the reserves estimates were wrong, but investors were not told until January.

Last week, Shell downgraded its reserves estimates for the fourth time this year.

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