The Chinese units of the Big Four accounting firms on Wednesday filed an appeal against a ruling in the United States that would bar them from offering audit services there and potentially affect companies from bothcountries. The appeal was filed by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu LLP, KPMG LLP, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Ernst & Young LLP, known as the Big Four. It will be heard by the five members of the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. In their appeal, the firms said the potential effects of a suspension are 'so sweeping and damaging that the commission itself should weigh in on the matter', according to the report. The firms had previously vowed to pursue a joint appeal of the ruling handed down in January by Cameron Elliot, an administrative law judge with the SEC, which suspended them from providing audits for US-traded companies for six months. The sanction was imposed after the four firms refused to offer full cooperation with the SEC's request for the audit papers of their US-traded Chinese clients. The ruling would potentially leave dozens of US-traded Chinese companies without an auditor. It could also affect many US-based multinational companies that the Chinese audit firms assist. 'The implications of this flawed decision reach far beyond this case and require full review by the commission,' the firms said. The firms contend the fact that some of the audit documents that have been provided to the SEC via Chinese authorities were neglected. They said the judge 'failed to acknowledge that the diplomatic dispute that triggered this proceeding has been resolved'. Harsher penalties In the meantime, the SEC's enforcement division has also asked the commission members to review the ruling, arguing that harsher penalties — longer or even permanent suspensions — should be imposed against the firms, the newspaper said. The enforcement division also recommended the suspension of a fifth firm, Dahua CPA, which was censured but not suspended in the initial ruling. Dahua joined the Big Four firms in the appeal. The ruling has yet to take effect, pending the appeal. A decision by the SEC could be months away or longer. Any SEC decision could then be appealed further to the US Court of Appeals in Washington. Gene Buttrill, a partner with Jones Day, commented earlier that the issue isn't something to be fought out in the courts but a diplomatic matter to be resolved by the Chinese and US governments. Jim Doty, chairman of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, the top US audit regulator, said last week he was optimistic the two sides will be able this year to sign an agreement to inspect the audit work of firms registered with it but based in China. Doty said the Chinese regulator and the PCAOB are still exchanging draft agreements and haven't yet decided how inspections will be conducted.