A company calling itself Arthur Andersen announced it has reconstituted the former Big Five firm in 16 countries, but its rights to the brand are being challenged by another firm that took the Andersen name in 2014.

French businessman Stéphane Laffont-Réveilhac, who calls himself global managing partner of Arthur Andersen, published a LinkedIn post Wednesday announcing the restart of the firm, which collapsed in the wake of the Enron and Arthur Andersen accounting scandals of the early 2000s.

“As from the 1st of March 2017, it is a reality: Arthur Andersen is reconstituted, with 26 offices on 5 continents and in 16 Countries,” said the announcement. “Arthur Andersen encompasses offices in the following countries & states: United States of America (Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco), Europe (Cyprus, France, Greece), India, Brazil, the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar), Egypt, Indonesia and Nepal.”

According to the announcement, discussions are underway for establishing other offices in China, Canada, Australia, Israel, Russia and in a number of countries in the European Union, Asia and South America. It said the firm has been in the process of “reconstructing” since 2013 “on the basis of an innovative business model and a sound ethical, governance and legal framework.” The firm also plans to double its presence around the world by the end of 2017.

He claimed that more than 200 firms had applied to become affiliates since last June, and interviews for the first members occurred in Paris and other parts of the world. Plans for a reboot of Arthur Andersen were announced in Paris in 2015.

“In each country, we are setting up an inter-professional member firm with high-quality players who are fully up to meeting the current needs of clients with a focus on a vision of the future, while maintaining the spirit and historical values of our historic firm founded in 1913 in Chicago,” Laffont-Réveilhac said in a statement Wednesday.

His firm claims to hold the trademark to the Arthur Andersen name.

“Our firm is the rightful holder of the ‘ARTHUR ANDERSEN’ and ‘ANDERSEN’ historical trademarks, logos, visuals and slogans at a global level and are systematically instituting all legal initiatives necessary to defend our network and secure its development,” said Carlo Brusa, a partner, spokesperson and pilot of the project, in a statement.

However, the CEO of Andersen Tax, a firm founded by a group of former Andersen partners and staff that has expanded worldwide, is challenging those assertions.

“They are not affiliated and do not have any rights to the name,” said Andersen Tax CEO Mark Vorsatz in an email Thursday. “We purchased the rights to the Andersen brand in the U.S. and worldwide and have filed trademarks in over 50 jurisdictions. We have filed an action against them in France to require that they cease and desist use of the name. Also, to the best of our knowledge, they have no viable business in any locations.”

Laffont-Réveilhac and other principals of the firm in Paris did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Vorsatz renamed his former firm, WTAS, to Andersen Tax in 2014 (see WTAS revives Arthur Andersen name as Andersen Tax). Vorsatz and 22 former Andersen partners founded WTAS (short for Wealth and Tax Advisory Services USA Inc.) in 2002 and it has since expanded internationally.

“At present, we have operations in 58 locations (we have added Toronto and Cologne so far this year—Cologne office will likely open in June) and we expect to add 5 more locations (Spain, Portugal and Israel) within the next 60 days,” he told Accounting Today.

Andersen Tax’s in-house counsel, Oscar Alcantara, said his firm filed an action in Paris last October against the group calling itself Arthur Andersen for trademark infringement and to cancel any other filings by them. Andersen Tax is waiting for the other Andersen’s answer, which is due March 17.

Alcantara believes Andersen Tax represents the Arthur Andersen name and legacy better than the other firm, which he says only has one former Andersen alumna in it.

“On our side of the table what we have is a large group of people who truly represent the legacy of Arthur Andersen, individuals who had been with the organization for decades and who truly bear the goodwill of that culture,” he said. “We also have acquired the intellectual property rights of that entity in the form of trademarks and copyrights from Arthur Andersen LLP, as well as trademarks acquired from the former IP holding company of Andersen Worldwide. That’s what we have on our side of the table. On the other side there has been, I think, some discussion about one of the principals who worked as a lawyer in one of the offices. She was not a partner and didn’t have an ownership interest, so to speak, in any Arthur Andersen entity or office. While I’m sure she enjoyed her employment at that Arthur Andersen firm, I think it is very difficult for her to claim that she carries the legacy of that worldwide entity.”

After Andersen Tax emerged from WTAS, it has steered clear of the auditing work that doomed the original Arthur Andersen, although it has been branching out from tax into legal services in some countries, such as Spain and Mexico.

The new business calling itself Arthur Andersen emerged from a French company called Quatre Juillet Maison Blanche, which translates into “4th of July White House.”

“Kind of a funny name for an entity,” said Alcantara. “They did not grow out of a network of business, tax and legal advisors, and as a matter of fact it does not appear to us that they have any current ability to offer that suite of services.”

He has tried contacting several of the offices and said they seem to be mostly running out of shared office space. “They purport to have several offices in various places around the world, but I would encourage you to call those offices to see what happens,” Alcantara said Thursday. “I called a few of them yesterday to see. I would question whether there’s any there there.”

Alcantara said he has seen no evidence that the other Arthur Andersen has signed up existing accounting firms and convinced them to take on the Andersen name.

“If that’s the case it’s being hidden extremely well,” said Alcantara. “It appears that the offices in question are like co-op office space, maybe a phone number and a mailbox, but as of yesterday the phone numbers don’t actually function.”

Accounting Today called Arthur Andersen’s New York office on Thursday and reached two people, including Imad Hala, who said he is managing partner for North America. He said he worked for the original Arthur Andersen for six years and the firm has hired some other former Andersen partners. They opened four offices in the U.S., including the New York office on March 1. “We brought some partners with the original Arthur Andersen and that's what we're doing: we’re relaunching Arthur Andersen,” he said.

Hala said his lawyer will be disputing Andersen Tax's claims. “We have full control of the name Arthur Andersen,” he added.

The firm plans to hold a press conference on March 15, where their attorney will be answering questions and addressing the legal issues.

On the Andersen Tax side, Alcantara is concerned that the new business using the Arthur Andersen name may damage the reputation Andersen Tax has been working to rebuild in recent years.

“Having those offices purporting to do business under the name Arthur Andersen is certainly detrimental to the branding efforts that we’ve spent so much time and effort on,” said Alcantara.

In the meantime, Vorsatz plans to continue expanding Andersen Tax. The firm currently has approximately 19 locations in the U.S., and is collaborating with four in Canada that will be formally integrated in January 1 of next year. Andersen Tax also has approximately 10 locations in Latin America and 22 in the European Union. Vorsatz anticipates the firm will continue to add another 10 to 12 locations each year.

“We announced Toronto and will be communicating Cologne after it formally launches around June 1,” said Vorsatz. “We expect to add two locations in Spain, one in Portugal (Lisbon) and two more in Israel (Tel Aviv and Haifa). We expect to sign deals with those groups within the next 30 days. We will likely announce in April to June. We have discussions with in excess of 100 groups. We are holding off on certain markets. For example, we have had communications with about 15 firms in Middle East (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Dubai, etc.) We will not likely do anything until next year in these markets. We hope to add another 15 locations in EU and about 15 in Latin America. That will take us the next 24 months or so.”

The Chicago building housing the headquarters of Arthur Andersen in 2002
The Chicago building housing the headquarters of Arthur Andersen in 2002 John Zich/Bloomberg News
Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.