On 18 May 2023 a Disciplinary Committee of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (“CIPFA”) heard allegations against CIPFA Affiliate member Mr Raja Usman.
Mr Usman did not attend his hearing and was not represented in his absence.
The previous listing of Mr Usman’s matter, in December 2022, had been adjourned due to his, unexpected and short notice, non-availability. No communication had been received from Mr Usman since that date.
In all of the circumstances, the Committee agreed to proceed in Mr Usman’s absence.
Mr Usman became a CIPFA Affiliate member in about January 2017. He was a full member of Accountancy Regulator A at that time.
In November 2020 Mr Usman was reprimanded by Accountancy Regulator A for a period of three years, warned over his future conduct and made subject to a condition on his licence.
The reprimand was imposed following a finding by Accountancy Regulator A that, in or about March 2020, Mr Usman had misrepresented his firm as an Accountancy Regulator B chartered accountancy firm, without holding membership of and/or a practicing licence with Accountancy Regulator B. In addition, Accountancy Regulator A found that Mr Usman had misrepresented his firm as providing auditing services, without holding a warrant or practicing certificate with a recognised chartered supervisory body.
Mr Usman’s conduct had come to Accountancy Regulator A’s attention when it was notified by HMRC that his firm had been advertising using the term “Chartered Certified Accountants” and promoting audit services and using Accountancy Regulator B’s logo on its website. This was confirmed by Accountancy Regulator A’s own internet searches.
The use by Mr Usman of its logo was also the subject of a complaint by Accountancy Regulator B to Accountancy Regulator A. Accountancy Regulator B had previously received an undertaking from Mr Usman’s firm that it would cease to misrepresent itself after it was found to have used Accountancy Regulator B’s logo at an earlier time, in 2018, but it appeared the logo was still being used.
In a letter to Accountancy Regulator A, Mr Usman denied breaching the undertaking given by his firm and stated that he had never represented himself as a member of Accountancy Regulator B, nor misrepresented himself as a chartered certified accountant, and had never provided audit services. He stated that, as soon as it came to his attention that there was objectional content on his website, he had asked the developer to close it down permanently. He provided an email to the website developer to this effect. Mr Usman stated that he had checked the website and it was down. At a later stage in Accountancy Regulator A’s process, Mr Usman provided a statement from the web developer confirming that they were negligent and were responsible for the logo and the references on the website. They stated that they had deactivated the website in 2018, on Mr Usman’s instructions, and it had been mistakenly reactivated again, but had received no traffic after the date it should have been taken down.
Accountancy Regulator A determined that Mr Usman was responsible for the firm’s website and had failed to undertake due diligence when he became its director and person with significant control in April 2018. The Regulator determined that the assertion that there had been no traffic on the website was incorrect as it was known that HMRC and Accountancy Regulators A and B had visited the website to check its content. It determined that Mr Usman’s conduct failed to meet the standards of its ethical code and was sufficient to support a finding of misconduct. It imposed a reprimand, a warning as to Mr Usman’s future conduct, and, a condition on his practicing licence that he must submit to a practice assurance review within 12 months. This sanction was accepted by Mr Usman in November 2020.
Following Regulatory Body A’s sanction being imposed, Mr Usman failed to make CIPFA aware of the sanction as required by his CIPFA duty to self-report. CIPFA only became aware of Accountancy Body A’s actions through its own regulatory checks in April 2021.
When CIPFA put the matter to Mr Usman he reiterated his response to Accountancy Regulator A. He denied any wrongdoing and stated that he cannot take the blame for someone else’s mistake. He provided no explanation for not making CIPFA aware of the outcome of Accountancy Body A’s actions.
The Committee took into account the explanations and evidence put forward by Mr Usman and his agreement to the reprimand given by Accountancy Body A. It considered the evidence of the web designer to be poor as it contained inaccurate information when referring to the website not having been visited. It noted Mr Usman’s failure to make CIPFA aware of the reprimand in accordance with his duty to do so.
The Committee did not consider Mr Usman’s actions to be straightforward or truthful. He had acted contrary to the Standards of Professional Practice on Ethics by acting without integrity and failing to act in accordance with the principles of Professional Behaviour. He had behaved in a way that might discredit the profession.
The Committee found that Mr Usman’s actions amounted to misconduct. His conduct would be considered deplorable by fellow members of the profession and the public. His actions brought, or were likely to bring, discredit on himself, the Institute and the profession of accountancy (Bye-Law 23(d)).
His conduct was a breach of the Institute’s Code of Ethics’ fundamental principles of integrity and professional behaviour and affected prejudicially the status, reputation or welfare of CIPFA (Bye-Law 23(b) and (c)).
Mr Usman’s failure to notify CIPFA of his being reprimanded by Accountancy Regulatory A was a breach of Bye-Law 32A which required him to notify CIPFA that he may have become liable to disciplinary action.
The Disciplinary Committee directed that Mr Usman be severely reprimanded.
The Committee found, in light of the seriousness of the reprimand issued by Accountancy Regulator A and Mr Usman’s failure to notify CIPFA of it, and his lack of insight, that a severe reprimand was an appropriate sanction. It was an isolated issue in an otherwise unblemished career. Any more serious sanction would not be proportionate and his actions were not fundamentally incompatible with his continuing to be a CIPFA member.
In reaching its decision, the Committee took account of mitigating factors; Mr Usman had no previous CIPFA disciplinary findings against him.
The Committee also took into account relevant aggravating factors; Mr Usman had a lack of insight and/or remorse and had not dealt with the website appropriately when first the issue was raised.
The Committee also imposed a costs order against Mr Usman.
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