Unconventional accounting at Gupta-owned VR Laser

(iStock)
(iStock)

Gupta-owned VR Laser has been running on borrowed money for years and employing unconventional accounting to downplay losses.

Financial statements for the financial year ending February 2017 are so dominated by this practice that the company’s auditors, SizweNtsalubaGobodo, refuse to give an opinion on them.

The statements are signed by VR Laser director Pushpaveni Govender and SizweNtsalubaGobodo director Mxolisi Mthimkhulu, and have been provided to bidders for VR Laser so they can perform due diligence.

The main problem is that 78% of the assets on VR Laser’s balance sheet consist of an old R192m entry for goodwill that would, under normal accounting standards, be worth nothing now.

Goodwill is an accounting term for the premium you pay when you buy an asset for more than its book value.

The correct way for VR Laser to treat this would have been to amortise the goodwill over ten years. That is already a departure from normal accounting where the value of goodwill is evaluated every year, but is the course prescribed by section 19 of the International Financial Reporting Standards for Small and Medium-sized Entities when it isn’t possible to reliably determine the useful life of the goodwill.

In the case of VR Laser goodwill should have been amortised to zero by now, notes the audit report from SizweNtsalubaGobodo.

VR Laser has, however, kept this goodwill unchanged since the Guptas took over the company in 2013, and propped it up with intercompany loans and a R30m overdraft from the Bank of Baroda.

In addition, the company has a complex web of dealings with other Gupta companies including some for whom the auditors could not determine the exact relationship.

The financial statements show the company has been making big losses, since at least 2015.

VR Laser’s staff of about 340 were fired last month and did not get paid for either April or last month, according to a source close to the company.

By not amortising the goodwill, VR Laser was able to cut its accumulated losses to R10m by the end of February last year. If it had followed normal accounting practice, this accumulated loss would be nearer R200m.

Without the goodwill trick, the loss of R37m in the 2017 financial year would have been a loss of R87m.

The auditors also pointed out that VR Laser’s total current liabilities exceed its total current assets by R44m.

VR Laser’s directors claimed it could remain a going concern.

However, the auditors say they “have been unable to provide us with the sufficient, appropriate audit evidence” to back this up.

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