Department store group Saks Inc has fired its chief accounting officer along with other top executives following an internal probe into illicit vendor payments.

The investigation discovered that a total of $20 million was improperly obtained from vendors between 1999 and 2003.

Chief accounting officer Donald Wright and Saks Fifth Avenue chief administrative officer Donald Watros, as well as Brian Martin, previously the company's general counsel,  have been asked to resign in connection with the incident.

Saks says it will repay vendors for the money taken and that other employees directly involved will be asked to resign. Workers who failed to oversee those involved in over-collections will be subject to disciplinary actions including termination of employment.

Bonuses for a number of executives, including chief executive R Brad Martin and chief financial officer Douglas Coltharp, are likely to be reduced or cancelled. Coltharp will no longer deal with accounting and financial reporting matters, but will be responsible for treasury, strategic planning, external development and real estate.

Vendors receive markdown compensation from suppliers when products aren't sold or companies have to make heavier markdowns than anticipated.

Saks plans to restate financial figures for financial 1999 until the third quarter of financial 2004 on or before 1 September 2005.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the US attorney for the Southern District of New York are still probing markdown money at the Saks Fifth Avenue division.