Lai See

Annells sidesteps investigation into business practices

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 September, 2013, 3:17am

Deborah Annells, the Hong Kong-based tax consultant who was found to have handled clients' money dishonestly by a professional body in Britain, has resigned from another industry body which had started to investigate her.

Annells, the founder and managing director of AzureTax, was found in July to have committed six instances of dishonesty by the disciplinary tribunal of Britain's Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) and was expelled.

Recently she resigned from the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), the worldwide professional association for practitioners dealing with family inheritance and succession planning.

Following her expulsion from CIOT, both the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) and STEP started preliminary investigations to see whether there was a case for mounting a disciplinary investigation. Members of STEP's disciplinary panel were due to meet next week to consider her case, but Annells has pre-empted this meeting by resigning from STEP.

"We were investigating the evidence before deciding whether or not to take the process forward, to a formal disciplinary investigation," said STEP chief executive David Harvey, adding: "Clearly her resignation was adjacent to the press coverage."

Although Annells maintains she has not been dishonest CIOT found her personally to have acted dishonestly on six occasions. Two of these charges include submitting "two applications to add an Azure service company as a bank signatory to a client company's bank account without the knowledge of their owners". The police arrested her in December 2011 but have yet to charge her, and 18 months later are still, apparently, investigating her.

On her company website Annells incorrectly says neither of these two professional organisations were investigating her. That is now partially true as she has pre-empted a decision by STEP on whether to formally investigate her, by resigning.

Annells also incorrectly says on her website that HKICPA can only "review practices of accountants in public practice in Hong Kong". A spokesman for the HKICPA confirmed that the institute has the power to investigate all its members, whether or not they are practising. Indeed the HKICPA is due to consider her case later this month.

It will be interesting to see if she is still an HKICPA member when the committee meets. However, there are provisions in the Professional Accountants Ordinance which may deter a strategic resignation. The council of the HKICPA may refuse to accept the resignation of a certified public accountant if "it has reason to believe that such accountant has been guilty of conduct, or that circumstances exist, which could justify the removal of his name from the register..." and secondly, "it is aware that a complaint concerning such accountant has been preferred and is before the council or the disciplinary committee".


HK's costs tower over others

In addition to being one of the most expensive places in the world to buy property, Hong Kong now has the distinction of being the most expensive place to build.

In so doing it has displaced Switzerland, which this year is in second place, followed by Denmark, Sweden, and Macau. Japan is in seventh place, Singapore is ninth, while Britain and the US are, respectively, 14th and 17th.

Elsewhere in the region, South Korea came in at 22, followed by mainland China (30), Philippines (37), Thailand (39), Vietnam (45), Indonesia, (46), and India (47).

The annual survey by cost consultants EC Harris says building projects cost on average between 42 and 68 per cent more in Hong Kong than in Britain. The survey said: "Hong Kong experienced rampant cost inflation last year as construction output grew by 15 per cent. Commercial and residential projects are in high demand", citing the boost from spending by mainland tourists.

Global construction prices were also affected by changes in the values of currencies.

Simon Rawlinson, head of strategic research and insight at EC Harris, said: "Currency fluctuations have had a substantial effect on relative construction costs over the past year, particularly the fall of the yen and the appreciation of the Chinese yuan."