SEC Investigates Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola Company is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegations of deceptive marketing and accounting practices. Coke recently completed an investigation of its own and as a result will incur a pretax charge of about $9 million associated with overvalued equipment that was used in promotional efforts to obtain Burger King as a customer.

The investigation was triggered by two lawsuits filed in May by Coke former finance director Matthew Whitley who accused management of improper and fraudulent accounting techniques relating to the Burger King promotion and other issues. He also alleges that Coke inflated earnings by about $750 million in each of the past three years by incorrectly classifying payments to customers for advertising expenses as marketing allowances instead of rebates. The SEC, however, requires that companies classify such payments as marketing allowances.

In one lawsuit, Mr. Whitley, whom Coca-Cola describes as a "disgruntled employee," pointed out what he described as a $65 million marketing fraud related to Coke's efforts to obtain Burger King as a customer. He also alleged that Coke discriminated against minority employees and that he was fired for exposing the discrimination.

Coca-Cola hired law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and audit firm Deloitte and Touche to perform an internal investigation. Coke stated that as a result of its internal investigation it was found that the valuation of certain marketing allowances was in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and also that there was nothing found to suggest that any discrimination was taking place.

The company's investigation did, however, find that members of the company's Burger King account team "improperly influenced" test results of a certain promotion and that those workers were subsequently disciplined.

Mr. Whitley has also made public claims that Coca-Cola Company inflated profits and allowed metal shavings to get into some frozen drink products.

Coca-Cola insists that Mr. Whitley's firing was part of a larger layoff that involved hundreds of other employees and was not a result of the lawsuit.

The SEC has requested documents from Coca-Cola and the company is cooperating with the SEC.

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