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Accounting News Roundup: Dewey Think Juries Like Accounting?; AB InBev’s Tax Savvy; Humble Executives | 10.21.15

Jury in Dewey Law-Firm Case Felt Inundated by Details [WSJ]
I mentioned it yesterday, but it bears repeating: juries — and people in general — can't be expected to understand accounting, especially not in a criminal trial. This is what happens:

Descriptions of the 22 days of deliberations by seven of the jurors suggest prosecutors miscalculated by inundating the panel with so much detail. One juror said some thought the three defendants should have been tried separately. Others said they wanted more explanation of what made the accounting adjustments illegal and of which exhibits corresponded to which charges. A few didn’t understand why some witnesses were called.

“The jurors were confused. They didn’t know what the story was,” said Scott Wagner, a partner at law firm Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP who has handled corporate investigations. 

I also enjoyed this:

One juror, a 42-year-old computer programmer who declined to be named, said he got into a “verbal confrontation” with another juror who wouldn’t explain his position.

And this:

Skylar Schur, a 38-year-old schoolteacher, said she wished the jury could have come to a conclusion. “It was too overwhelming for some people, understandably,” she said, adding that by 4 p.m., each day, they were “kind of fried.”

Not unusual when the subject is largely accounting adjustments.

When most people think about criminal acts, they think about obvious stuff — murder, stealing, assault, etc. When prosecutors try to explain why accounting adjustments are illegal, the majority of people aren't going think about bad people doing bad things, they're going to thank their lucky stars that they don't have to know accounting! I think that's why when you read these articles about the Dewey trial, you keep hearing people talk about the "story." Accounting can tell a story, but it makes a BIG difference who's telling that story. In this case, the storytellers were prosecutors and the defense team had a pretty easy job of saying to the jury, "Man, isn't this a shitty, confusing story?"

EU demands Starbucks, Fiat pay back millions in tax breaks [AP]
Each company is being asked to repay $34 million and both plan to appeal.

Anheuser-Busch InBev Aims Its Tax-Trimming Skills at SABMiller [NYT]
Speaking of tax avoidance, AB InBev global effective tax rate was 11.1% in 2013 and 16.2% in 2012. The highest nominal corporate is 35%. The company is headquartered in Belgium, who allows for a "notional interest deduction" and it's just one way AB InBev manages its tax liability. The Belgian Finance Ministry calls it “a fictitious interest calculated on the basis of their shareholder’s equity (net assets).”  The company admits that its "corporate payments in Belgium have been low in recent years" but insists that it's in full compliance.

The Most Diverse S.E.C. Ever May Be Taking Shape [DealBook]
POTUS has nominated two women — Lisa Fairfax and Hester Maria Peirce — to fill the vacant seats. If confirmed, there would be four commissioners (Mary Jo White and Kara Stein are the other two) and Ms. Fairfax would be only the third African-American commissioner in the history of the SEC.

PwC launches scheme to tempt professional women back into work [Accountancy Age]
"The Back to Business programme aims to ease the transition back to employment and offer the chance for people to get involved with client-facing work based on expertise, interests and skills, and the opportunity to explore the range of careers offered at PwC with a view to potentially returning to a more permanent role."

In other news:

  • Humble executives. [WSJ]
  • What Back to the Future 2 got right about the future. [BI]
  • The US Chamber of Commerce is picking its Dodd-Frank battles. [CFOJ]
  • Business schools. [Bloomberg]
  • Drunk cupcake burglar. [MLive]