September 7, 2021

SEC Enforcement Settles “Expense Management” Investigation

On Friday, the SEC announced a $62 million settlement with The Kraft Heinz Company. The settlement resolved an alleged expense management scheme that the SEC says happened when the company was trying to aggressively cut costs after its 2015 merger.

The case underscores the importance of having strong internal controls that can catch irregularities. According to the SEC, the company had inadequate internal controls for its procurement division that caused gatekeepers to overlook warning signs of manipulated supply agreements and inaccurate reporting. The SEC also announced charges against the company’s former COO and former Chief Procurement Officer. Here’s more detail from the press release:

According to the SEC’s order, from the last quarter of 2015 to the end of 2018, Kraft engaged in various types of accounting misconduct, including recognizing unearned discounts from suppliers and maintaining false and misleading supplier contracts, which improperly reduced the company’s cost of goods sold and allegedly achieved “cost savings.” Kraft, in turn, touted these purported savings to the market, which were widely covered by financial analysts.

The accounting improprieties resulted in Kraft reporting inflated adjusted “EBITDA,” a key earnings performance metric for investors. In June 2019, after the SEC investigation commenced, Kraft restated its financials, correcting a total of $208 million in improperly-recognized cost savings arising out of nearly 300 transactions.

The company disclosed the investigation in an earnings release over two years ago. On Friday, it reported the settlement in a Form 8-K, under Item 8.01. The Form 8-K says that it recorded an accrual for the full amount of the penalty in the second quarter of this year.

For more details see this WSJ article, this NYT article and this Cooley blog.

Liz Dunshee