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Lawmakers question quality of KPMG's Wells Fargo audits

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. Senate Democrats are asking a U.S. audit watchdog to review whether KPMG failed to disclose or prevent fraud when it audited Wells Fargo's (WFC.N) books during the time period that the bank's sales force was opening two million unauthorized accounts.

In an April 25 letter to Public Company Accounting Oversight Board Chairman James Doty, Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey said they were concerned that the accounting company issued clean audit reports for Wells Fargo & Co from 2011 through 2015 even though KPMG became aware of the fraud during at least some of that time.

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Mary Eschet declined to comment.

Manuel Goncalves, a KPMG spokesman, said the firm takes its role as independent auditor seriously and it is confident its audits were done appropriately.

KPMG also previously defended its performance in a November 2016 letter to Warren and Markey, saying it did not think misconduct at Wells Fargo implicated any of the bank's "key controls over financial reporting" and that the opening of an unauthorized account "did not itself have an impact" on the financial statements, according to the letter.

"KPMG, in its role as Wells Fargo's independent auditor, failed to prevent or even publicly disclose the fraud that affected hundreds of thousands of customers, and cost the company CEO his job," Warren and Markey wrote.

Wells Fargo has been under fire since last fall, after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other regulators fined the bank for opening as many as 2.1 million accounts in customers' names without their permission.

The bank remains under criminal investigation, its former CEO John Stumpf was forced to resign and an internal investigation released by the bank recently found that former retail division head Carrie Tolstedt ignored the systemic nature of abusive sales practices - a claim her lawyers have denied.

Anger over the account scandal was apparent at Wells Fargo's annual meeting on Tuesday, as shareholders repeatedly demanded answers and the meeting was briefly recessed after a shareholder made a "physical approach" toward a board member.

Investors at Tuesday's meeting also asked questions about KPMG and why it was able to give the bank a clean bill of health for its financial statements.

The lawmakers, in their letter to the PCAOB, asked Doty about whether the PCAOB has reviewed KPMG's audit work and whether the firm had run afoul of PCAOB rules.

A PCAOB spokeswoman said the board looks forward to reviewing and responding to the letter.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Ross Kerber and Dan Freed; Editing by Bernard Orr)