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Financials

Norway wealth fund considers how to ensure quality in corporate audits

* Fund at forefront of drive for better governance

* Collapse of Wirecard shone spotlight on audits

* Fund still at early stage over possible action

OSLO, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Norway’s $1.3 trillion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, is considering how to ensure high quality audits are conducted in the roughly 9,100 companies in which it invests, a top fund official told Reuters.

The collapse of German payment firm Wirecard showed how auditing over the years can still fail to uncover accounting issues. It has prompted shareholders to call for closer scrutiny and regulators to consider how to improve rules.

“What we are looking into is the role of the auditor and whether there is anything we can do to make sure that the audit quality of the companies are the way it should be,” said Carine Smith Ihenacho, the Norwegian fund’s chief governance and compliance officer.

The fund has been at the forefront of a drive to improve environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG), recently telling firms to name more women to their boards and demanding companies do more to show how they affect the climate.

Smith Ihenacho said auditing was on the radar in part because the fund, as a shareholder, votes to approve auditors of companies at their annual general meetings.

The fund was at a very early stage in its consideration of the issue and could not yet say precisely what action it could take or when, but some kind of action was “likely”, she said.

Wirecard was a “very good example” of a fraud scandal arising even when accounts had been audited, she said.

“Is there a way we can distinguish good audits from bad audits? Maybe should we have more dialogue with the board or the audit committee? This is a whole area we are approaching from a shareholder’s perspective,” she said.

The fund said earlier on Thursday that companies were improving the way they reported their impact on the climate. (Editing by Edmund Blair)

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