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HOEC’s liabilities overweigh assets: Another audit fraud in making?

Pursuant to the development regarding the Gujarat High Court freezing the assets of the Hindustan Oil Exploration Company (HOEC), the company has informed the stock markets.

However, it is yet to clarify the actual issue of liability, which is multiple times higher than the company’s cash flows. It was on the basis of the liabilities worth Rs 722 crore, the High Court restrained HOEC and its directors and officers from getting into any transaction of movable or immovable assets.

Sources say, as per the affidavit filed by the petitioner (Hardy Oil), the respondent HOEC has “total outstanding liability of approximately Rs 722 crore”.

As per HOEC’s financial statement for the year ending March 31, 2020, the demand made by the operational and financial creditors is to the tune of Rs 214 crore. The financial statement also says that there are additional non-current liabilities to the tune of Rs 142 crore.

HOEC also owes Rs 175.5 crore to the Government of India under five different cases related to service tax/GST payments.

Another Rs 164 crore is payable to the Government of India under the production sharing contract for six oil blocks/fields with the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG).

There are other liabilities worth more than Rs 100 crore, payable to service providers, arbitrators, and public sector firms such as ONGC.

The auditor’s report does not capture all the liabilities or HOEC has suppressed the facts from the auditors, regulators, and the stock exchanges.

In the submission made to the stock market on a Sunday HOEC has only mentioned: “As per the standalone accounts of the Company as on March 31, 2020, duly audited by Deloitte Haskins & Sells LLP, the net worth of the Company is Rs 665 crore, the gross working capital is Rs 317 crore, and the networking capital is Rs 184 crore.”

However, there are apprehensions that considering the liabilities of more than Rs 722 crore the net worth of HOEC might have already slipped into the negative territory.

Additionally, the run-up of the share prices of HOEC has been a surprise. The share prices went up almost three times in less than two months, despite the Gujarat HC order and without any positive trigger related to oil and gas price or any government policy announcement or operational success.

The corporate world has seen cases of IL&FS, Satyam Computers, Yes Bank Ltd, Manpasand Beverages Ltd, and many others where auditors’ suppression of information and lax auditing practice resulted in big corporate frauds.

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