Coca-Cola ( KO) said an investigation by an independent law firm and auditor has turned up nothing to substantiate a former employee's claims that the company used improper accounting techniques or engaged in workplace discrimination. The company said its audit committee has been briefed by the outside law firm and their accounting advisers regarding issues Matthew Whitley raised in a letter dated April 28. In a statement, the soft drink maker said based on the initial investigation conducted over the past several weeks, expenses identified by the fountain division as marketing allowances are classified in the company's consolidated financial statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. Coca-Cola also said no evidence was found that the fountain division improperly shifted $4 million of capital funding to the iFountain project in 2002. "Since this investigation began, Mr. Whitley has filed lawsuits against the company that contain additional allegations," Coca-Cola said. "The company and its litigation counsel are in the process of investigating the additional matters and will respond to the allegations through the legal process." Additionally, the company said nothing was found to suggest that discrimination against minorities or women was taking place. However, the investigation did confirm that members of the fountain division's account team for fast-food chain Burger King "improperly influenced" the test results of a promotion involving frozen beverages that was conducted in Richmond, Va., in March 2000. Those workers were disciplined for their actions in 2001.
The company also said that the independent counsel, after consulting with their accounting advisers, "reported that further examination was warranted regarding the financial arrangements between the fountain division and certain equipment suppliers." The board's audit committee has directed the company's senior financial management "to conduct an immediate review of these matters." Some of the issues were already being reviewed, Coca-Cola said. The company said it's now "confident that sufficient work has been performed to draw conclusions on the matters reviewed." As a result, Coca-Cola will record a pretax writedown of about $9 million related to fountain dispenser equipment and other items. The company added that it doesn't consider the writedown significant to its overall results. Shares of Coca-Cola were losing $1.06, or 2.2%, to $47.14 in afternoon New York Stock Exchange trading.