BACKGROUND OF FORENSIC ACCOUNTING
History of Forensic Accounting
Forensic accounting is certainly not a new field. Evidences showed that the profession has been in existence a long time ago though during that time the profession was not yet being called forensic accounting. In ancient Egypt, forensic accountants who inventoried the Pharaohs’ grain, gold and other assets were called the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Pharaohs. Another evidence of the existence of forensic accounting can be traced back to the year 1817 when the accountant who examined the bankrupt’s account was required to testify in the court case (Crumbly, 2001).
Some sources traced the practice’s origin back as far as 19th century Scotland when a young Scottish accountant issued a circular advertising his expert in arbitration support in 1824. In the late 1800’s and 1900’s articles began to appear discussing expert witnessing, evidence arbitration and awards.
It has been said that the phrase ‘forensic accounting’ was first published in an article in 1946 by Maurice E. Peloubet, a partner in a New York accounting firm. He stated that, “during the war both the public and industrial accountant have been and now engaged in the practice of forensic accounting” (Peloubet, 1946).
Definition of Forensic Accounting
To date, various definitions have been given to describe forensic accounting. According to Thornhill (1995), the forensic accounting discipline is relatively new that up to now, there has been no formal definition being accepted as the standard.
Webster’s Dictionary defined forensic as “pertaining to, connected with, or used in the courts of law or public discussion and debate”. Hence, forensic accounting is closely related to the legal process and has the potential to be involved in proceedings in the civil and criminal courts. Forensic accounting provides an accounting analysis to assist in legal matters which will form the basis for discussion, debate and ultimately dispute resolution.
Bologna and Lindquist (1987) provide the definition of forensic accounting as follows:
“Forensic and investigative accounting is the application of financial skills and investigative mentality to unresolved issues, conducted within the context of the rules of evidence. As a discipline, it encompasses financial expertise, fraud knowledge, and a sound knowledge and understanding of business reality and the working of the legal system. Its development has been primarily achieved through on-the job training as well as experience with investigating officers and legal council.”
Robert G. Roche, a retired chief of the Inland Revenue Service (IRS) describes a forensic accountant as “someone who can look behind the façade-not accept the records at their face value- someone who has suspicious mind that the documents he or she is looking at may not be what they purport to be and someone who has the expertise to go out and conduct a very detailed interviews of individuals to develop the truth, especially if some are presumed to be lying”. Consequently, IRS agents were said to be the early forensic accountants (Crumbley and Apostolou, 2002).
This study employs both primary and secondary data which involves the archives research and interviews. Accounting practitioners from the big accounting firms, professional bodies and regulatory bodies in Malaysia were approached to be interviewed either in person or over the phone. Finally, there were 12 respondents that agreed to be interviewed for this study, which consist of directors and senior managers from the big and medium accounting firms and senior executives from Bursa Malaysia, Securities Commissions, Malaysian Institute of Accountants and professional accounting bodies, namely, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Malaysian Institute of Certified Public Accountants (MICPA). The respondents were assured that their names will be kept anonymous and their answers were their own personal views or opinions and do not represent their organisation. The interviews were unstructured whereby the respondents were asked about the development and future prospect of forensic accounting in Malaysia. Basically, the respondents were asked the following questions.
How do they perceive the development of forensic accounting in Malaysia?
In their opinion, what are the skills needed or minimum requirements to be a forensic accountant?
What do they think of the future prospect of forensic accounting in Malaysia?