NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Ernst & Young LLP is in merger talks with a number of Arthur Andersen practices around the world, though not the United States, Ernst Global CEO Bill Kimsey told CNN/Money.
Ernst & Young is in negotiations with Andersen's Australia member firm, Kimsey said.
KPMG International abandoned talks Monday with Andersen's Australia practice due to a conflict of interest surrounding the collapse of HIH Insurance Ltd., a KPMG spokesman said. Andersen served as HIH's auditor while KPMG was the liquidator.
"We are interested in talking to all of Andersen's practices outside the U.S.," Kimsey said. Ernst & Young Global is the umbrella organization which includes the U.S. member firm, Ernst & Young LLP.
In addition to Australia, Ernst & Young is taking a close look at several Andersen partnerships around the world, Kimsey said. Ernst is ranked as the No. 3 accounting firm in the U.S. but is the smallest of the Big 5 globally, according to Bowman's Accounting Report.
Arthur Andersen continues to reel from a criminal charge filed against it on March 14 for destroying Enron Corp. documents. Andersen, Enron's auditor for 16 years, signed off on the energy trader's financial statements and later admitted to shredding Enron documents. Houston-based Enron, which filed the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history last December, allegedly used off-the-books partnerships to inflate profits and hide nearly $1 billion in debt. Enron fired Andersen as its auditor in January.
But Ernst is not looking to acquire the Andersen partnerships, which number 83 outside the U.S. Instead, Ernst is seeking to combine the Andersen units with its own member firms in that country.
Ernst & Young is looking at Andersen practices in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas, Kimsey said.
On March 13, Ernst & Young backed out of talks with Andersen for a global merger that would include the U.S. Andersen also failed in merger negotiations with Deloitte & Touche.
A day later, March 14, Ernst returned with a merger deal that would exclude the U.S. partnership, Kimsey said.
But Andersen instead opted to pursue discussions with KPMG to combine the firms's non-U.S. operations. However, that transaction has faced a number of setbacks with several Andersen practices pulling out of negotiations and joining rivals.
"Andersen partners are feeling the need to move quickly and some are seeking alternatives," Kimsey said.
So far, two Andersen partnerships -- New Zealand and Russia -- have broken ranks and signed a letter of intent with Ernst & Young. Another Andersen practice, the member firm in Hong Kong, agreed to join rival PricewaterhouseCoopers.
"We know we are not the only alternative," said Kimsey, who maintained the firm was not trying to dislodge Andersen's pending merger with KPMG.
But Andersen did receive some good news last week. KPMG Canada does plan to pursue a merger with Andersen's member firm in that country. The two firms have commenced due diligence and are addressing legal and business issues, the firms said.