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Fannie's Issues: Simple or Not?

2 Agencies Differ

By David S. Hilzenrath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 23, 2004; Page E03

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William H. Donaldson said in an interview this week that the accounting issues the SEC must address in its investigation of mortgage funding giant Fannie Mae are "not black and white."

"This is not a simple matter; it's not black and white," Dow Jones Newswires quoted the SEC chairman as saying.

SEC Chairman William Donaldson says Fannie Mae's accounting issues are "not black and white." (Manuel Balce Ceneta -- AP)

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Donaldson's comments on Thursday contrasted with another regulator's recent testimony that Fannie Mae committed "clear violations of accounting principles."

"We feel very strongly that these are black and white accounting issues," Armando Falcon Jr. , director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, told a House subcommittee on Oct. 6. "These are not issues of interpretation. They're not issues where reasonable people can disagree."

Laura Cox, an adviser to Donaldson, said the SEC chairman was not contradicting Falcon. The context for Donaldson's comment was that the issues "are extremely complicated," Cox said by e-mail. The SEC will be the final arbiter of whether Fannie must correct past financial statements.

OFHEO last month issued a report saying that Fannie Mae had systematically violated accounting rules related to complex financial contracts used to hedge against movements in interest rates. The accounting firm Deloitte & Touche assisted OFHEO. Fannie has agreed to change some of its accounting methods going forward. But Fannie executives have said the regulators' allegations involve interpretations of complex accounting rules.

Also yesterday, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, called for the release of a report on OFHEO by the inspector general at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. At the request of Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), the inspector general has been investigating whether political influence affected OFHEO's examination of Fannie Mae.

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