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The Boston Globe

Business

Auditor’s warning to MBTA ignored year after year

The auditor’s note appears in the MBTA Retirement Fund’s annual report year after year: Pension managers have omitted information considered “an essential part of financial reporting’’ and which is required to be disclosed under governmental accounting standards.

That lack of disclosure, or transparency in the finance world, is endemic at the MBTA pension board, which for more than two years has failed to disclose a $25 million investment loss in a hedge fund that has now been accused of fraud.

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A more complete audit could have shed light on the troubled investment sooner, say specialists in accounting and people who have reviewed the T fund’s audits.

“These are precisely the kinds of things you cannot catch when you don’t have these reports,’’ said Iliya Atanasov, a senior fellow at the Pioneer Institute, a Boston think tank, who authored a recent report critical of the T’s pension management.

The omitted information is called “management’s discussion and analysis,’’ and it’s meant to provide important context to the basic numbers pension funds and other entities provide to their auditors. The MBTA pension fund would not say why it fails to provide this information.

“With a loss of this size, and especially if foul play is involved, if there was management discussion, this should have been included,’’ Atanasov said.

A spokesman for the $1.6 billion pension fund, Stephen Crawford, said fund officials believe the disclaimer is a common one and “does not detract from the overall accuracy of the reported information.’’

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A spokeswoman for the T fund’s outside auditor, KPMG, declined to comment, due to customer confidentiality.

The T board does disclose basic financial information it is obligated to provide to its auditors. However, most pension operations and public companies go beyond that to provide the management discussion, which offers insights and explanations of the past year.

A spokesman for the Financial Accounting Foundation, which oversees the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, said Massachusetts is one of 30 states that require most public entities to follow generally accepted accounting principles.

The group encourages this because it “establishes good accountability.’’

KPMG would not say why it continues to review financials from a client that does not provide required information, referring questions to the American Institute of CPAs.

Mary Foelster, director of government auditing and accounting at the CPA group, said it was “not the responsibility of the auditor to enforce the inclusion” of missing information. She said it’s up to the T retirement board “and perhaps those overseeing the entity as to whether the required” information “is included.’’

Attorney General Martha Coakley has launched an investigation of the fund, which has little public oversight.

Beth Healy can be reached at Beth.Healy@globe.com.

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