The phrase 'certain unresolved accounting issues', used by Azlan to describe the cause of its suspension of share trading, may go down in IT history along with some of Richard Nixon's better terminological inexactitudes. To announce, as Tricky Dicky did during the Watergate scandal, 'I am not a crook', invites a certain response.
Azlan may have unwittingly done us a similar service. PC Dealer pointed out on 27 August 1997 that Azlan investors could probably wave goodbye to most of their money in the ailing distributor as moves to reinforce its shares dragged on.
As the saga moves to a rather inevitable conclusion, the news management of Azlan chief executive Barrie Morgans is looking better than the news of its fraud investigation.
Morgans' experience at IBM, when the Automated Fingerprint Recognition Consortium dumped the vendor as a supplier, has obviously stood him in good stead. His division kept the IT press hanging on for four days before he would issue any statements about the fiasco. His public relations timing may be good, but his overall sense of timing may prove a little too costly for the investors.
The question is: why has it taken so long for the Serious Fraud Office to be brought in? Why have so many staff been allowed to flood the exits before a major investigation begins? Does it take this long to work out that someone, or persons unknown, may have been cooking the books? Tracking down some of those who have left may prove more difficult now than it would have been a few months ago.
If Barrie hasn't been asking those questions, we certainly have. One of Azlan's investors told us it was concerned the distributor displayed uncanny skills when it came to keeping bad news quiet until it wanted it out. And that meant investors who would probably have fled long ago were kept clinging to the Azlan lifeboats by their fingertips.
What is also extraordinary is the length of time it has taken the DTI to conclude that there was some element of fraud taking place.
In October last year, Azlan went on the record to say that as far as it was concerned, no instances of fraud had come to light, and it laid the blame at the feet of incompetent staff.
But that in itself hid massive management neglect.
It is ironic, perhaps, that in last week's editorial, I took issue with the role of non-executive directors. Morgans is well aware of these issues since he was a non-executive director of Azlan before all the troubles began.
There is no doubting his integrity. He is as clean as a whistle - and it's a safe bet he will be one of the few executives to come out of this whole sorry drama with his credibility intact. But that doesn't end the problems facing the board. Someone, or possibly more than one person, sat on the board and lied. We will eventually find out who.
At that level in a company, I would expect board members to do more than rubber-stamp everything they were told. If we are to learn anything from this story, it is that healthy scepticism is an essential element of business acumen. And at PC Dealer, we still have plenty of that to dispense liberally.
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