Re: Unimaginable corruption
"in order for HP's claim of fraud to hold weight, the corruption would have encompassed thousands of vendors, customers and partners, or the auditors themselves"
With all due respect the first half of that is incorrect. And I should know, because I worked at a company where a major accounting fraud was perpetrated, causing it to collapse. A small number of people, probably around five to eight, can easily conduct an accounting based fraud, simply by mis-stating the revenues. Sometimes that's blatant, as in declaring a sale when you've not got one (although the perpetrators usually do so against a prospect that they hope to come good soon after). With software revenues particularly involving either income streams over time, or work streams over time against an up front payment you have to make a call when the revenues become a sale, and this in particular creates an opportunity for a more sophisticated fraud, by claiming revenues today for work that you will only do in the future, or claiming a future revenue stream as though it were earned when the contract were signed. Customers can't see any of this, and there's no reason for them to be involved. Suppliers wouldn't know enough (and software businesses usually don't have many suppliers compared to a manufacturing or retail business). The only people who should see enough to know are the auditors, and that that's why they are required by law. It helps if the company structure is complex, and if the finance team is under-manned and with high staff turnover (this means nobody outside the core "fraud team" stays long enough to see that the numbers are made up).
Problem is that in my experience at a couple of different companies, the auditors will sign off all manner of dodgy things, rather than rock the boat with a major client. Enron, Worldcom, and other big bankruptices were mostly due to a fraud involving the over-statement of results - but both had no problem getting their accounts signed off until the fraud had escalated to the point that the entire company went under (hence Arthur Andersen's demise). And so it was for the company I worked at - accounts signed off by the auditors in May, and by December the wheels had come off. It wouldn't take much for the auditors to properly check the sales ledger against contracts in place (and verify with major customers), nor for them to validate booking of revenues where there's a timing element. I don't think that the major auditors are ever complicit in fraud deliberately - unfortunately they tend to be persuaded to overlook the signposts to fraud in order to protect their relationship. And even if the company does go belly up, the auditor will charge even more for helping the administrators and creditors, so the downside of a client bankruptcy is usually limited.