UPDATE 1-Dutch staffing firm Brunel hit by fraud at U.S. office

Fri Mar 1, 2013 5:29am EST

AMSTERDAM, March 1 (Reuters) - Dutch specialist staffing firm Brunel said it found evidence of fraud at its U.S. office, forcing it to take a 9.7 million euro ($12.7 million) charge and sending its shares to a seven-month low.

Brunel's Chief Executive Jan Arie van Barneveld said financial results had been overstated by an individual employee since the third quarter of 2011, which was only discovered a few days ago.

Van Barneveld said the employee inflated sales and as a result margins looked higher than they really were. Sales were manipulated for operations in the United States, Canada, South America, Chad and Angola, he said.

Brunel, which derives 69 percent of its sales from providing workers to the global oil and gas industry, said sales had been inflated by 16.8 million euros and earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) by 9.7 million euros.

Brunel is one of several Dutch companies that have surprised investors recently by announcing fraud or irregularities.

Engineering company Imtech disclosed irregularities in Poland and Germany last month, while coffee and tea maker DE Master Blenders reported fraud in Brazil last year.

"This is coming at completely the wrong moment after Imtech. Analysts will wonder which numbers are still credible," said analyst Jos Versteeg of Dutch private bank Theodoor Gilissen.

Shares of Brunel fell as much as 25 percent and were down 22 percent to a seven-month low of 29.84 euros by 0931 GMT.

Brunel does not expect to be fined by U.S. regulators over the fraud, Van Barneveld said.

As a result of the charge, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) in the fourth quarter of last year was 8.7 million euros, down 56 percent from the same period in 2011.

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