Australian financial regulators have told Slater and Gordon they want to re-examine documents relating to a previous investigation into the firm.
The listed firm announced to the Australian stock exchange today that it had been served with two notices to serve papers by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).
The documents relate to an ASIC investigation into the accuracy of financial records and accounts of the company between December 2014 and September 2015. They are to be produced later this month and in early January.
The announcement states that ASIC wants to determine whether those financial records and accounts were ‘deliberately falsified or manipulated’ and whether the company or any of its officers have committed offences.
Slater and Gordon said back in February ASIC had discontinued its inquiries in relation to financial reports for the years ended June 2014 and June 2015.
As part of its announcement, the firm said: ‘ASIC has stated that these notices should not be construed as an indication by ASIC that a contravention of the law has occurred and nor should they be considered as a reflection upon any person or entity.
‘The company will comply with the notices and will also fully cooperate with ASIC so that its investigation may be completed as soon as reasonably practicable.’
Slater and Gordon – timeline:
January 2012 – Slater and Gordon takes over top-100 firm Russell Jones & Walker, applies to become an alternative business structure
February 2013 – Group reveals a £2.4m profit for first six months of UK operations
August 2013 – Firm buys Manchester- and London-based personal injury practice Fentons Solicitors
September 2013 – £1m advertising campaign unveiled to instate S and G as a ‘household name’
December 2013 – ‘Substantial parts’ of Manchester practice Pannone are bought by Slater in a £33m deal
July 2014 – The Australia-based firm offers one million shares to its UK staff
August 2014 – Following its aggressive expansion strategy, Slater reveals full-year profits of £33.7m and £231m revenue
April 2015 – Quindell shareholders give the green light for the sale of its professional services division to S and G for £637m. Quindell had said it was the world’s largest listed legal services provider
June 2015 – Shares in Slater and Gordon slide after the firm says it has uncovered two errors in the reporting of historical cashflow in the UK business
July 2015 – The firm announces that a key contract associated with the Quindell deal will end later in the year. Shares in Slater dip further
December 2015 – Australian firms consider class action against S and G on behalf of investors, as Slater downgrades its profit expectations
24 February 2016 – Slater suspends trading ahead of a profit announcement
29 February 2016 – The firm announces £493m losses and reveals UK office closure plans. Share price falls 25%
3 March 2016 – Firm says the majority of its UK sites will stay open
6 April 2016 – Slater’s full restructuring plan is revealed. Talks begin on the future of offices in Bristol, Halifax, Newcastle and Liverpool Waterloo
August 2016 – S and G's UK business loses £37m
The share price of Slater and Gordon once again dipped following this latest announcement, dropping 7.5% to A$0.245 (14p) a share. This is now the lowest trading price since April.
Today’s development marks another setback in a year which has been characterised by problems. Fallout from the £637m acquisition of Quindell’s professional services division has continued to hamper the business, with the company altering its operation in the UK to put an end to continuing losses.
Slater and Gordon now has a market value of just £55m and net debt of nearly £400m. According to Australian media, lenders have been offloading debt at heavy discounts to distressed debt buyers, prompting speculation that the balance sheet will have to be restructured through a debt-for-equity swap that will wipe out the equity holders.