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Big 4 accounting firms on defensive over Hong Kong protest support

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CNN: The world’s “Big 4” accounting firms are distancing themselves from a newspaper advertisement in which people claiming to be their employees expressed support for protesters in Hong Kong.

Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC said the advertisement, which was published in Hong Kong’s Apple Daily on Friday, does not represent the companies’ views.The advertisement reiterated five demands by activists, including the complete withdrawal of a proposed bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China.

That bill has been shelved, but demonstrators are still calling for greater democracy in Hong Kong after 11 consecutive weekends of street protests. The ad also demanded that authorities drop criminal charges against protesters and establish an independent commission to investigate possible police misconduct.”We are a group of concerned employees at the respective Big 4 accounting firms across multiple departments,” the message read. “We stand with all fellow Hongkongers.”

All four of the firms, which collectively employ tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong and mainland China, responded soon after the ad was published.”While we cannot verify the source of the statement and we respect the right of individuals to peacefully express their views, we want to clarify that this statement does not represent the views of the firm,” said Deloitte.

EY also said it could not confirm the ad’s authenticity, and added that it “does not share the views expressed in the statement.”PwC said it firmly opposed “any action and statement that challenge national sovereignty.” And KPMG said it “opposes any illegal acts and violence.”

“We hope that Hong Kong remains peaceful and continues to prosper as one of the world’s most important international financial centres based on the rule of law and the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems,” KPMG added, referring to the arrangement that affords the city political and legal freedoms that are not available on the Chinese mainland.

The companies are not the first global businessesto have been caught in the fray between Hong Kong and Beijing.Last week, Cathay Pacific’s CEO and chief commercial officer announced they would step down after the company was swept up in several controversies related to the protests, in which some of its employees took part.

Those shock resignations were “a watershed event” for Hong Kong’s business community, said Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.China has traditionally let multinational companies operate in Hong Kong more freely than on the mainland, which has preserved the city’s status as a global financial hub and gateway to China.

Some analysts say the resignations at Cathay Pacific underscore a new willingness by Beijing to put big companies under pressure over the protests. More could soon face similar action.