Investigations On The Road

WORDS: Matthew Fleming PHOTOGRAPHY Supplied

With the advancement of technology and the use of electronic means of business, the days of old-fashioned fraudsters and criminals is vanishing, but their ingenuity is not.

A few years ago, I found myself in a poorly air-conditioned demountable office on site in Kalimantan, Indonesia, sifting through handwritten receipts, some of which were on the back of what appeared to be grocery and fuel dockets. The handwritten scrawl, when translated from Bahasa Indonesia to English in summary read, “spiritual doctor”.  It seemed that the company I was investigating was paying for the services of a witch doctor. This piece of evidence led to me unravelling a system of corrupt payments from a large mining client to a network of local Indonesian government officials and local militia. This in turn led to a multi-jurisdictional prosecution of foreign corruption and, ultimately, the demise of the company. It turns out the witch doctor was being paid to remove the curse that the western staff had brought to their lands, namely repeated pregnancies amongst the largely female mine site staff.

This is just one example of the oddities and circumstances that led to consequences I am engaged to uncover as an investigations specialist. The world works in mysterious ways, and overwhelmingly it is the greed and ego of humanity that creates such issues. This was grotesquely reinforced with me when I attended the Tsunami ravaged areas of Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Thailand, chasing down millions of dollars of funds donated to large charities that were pilfered by unscrupulous fraudsters and corrupt politicians. The devastating Tsunami of boxing day 2004, was known by many who profited from it as ‘the Golden Wave’, and the greed was on display as I witnessed communities still scarred and recovering from the disaster eking out their very survival on one hand, and on the other vulgar amounts of profits and lavish displays of wealth, such as a canary yellow Rolls Royce, which I came to learn was from the proceeds of new fishing boat sales (premium price) direct to government, but paid by charities.

Time-old patterns emerge as red flags for an investigator, which may remain unnoticed by others. Such as the flamboyant middle manager clearly living beyond their means, the insular procurement clerk who never takes leave, or the self-imploding executives rolling their dice trying to win quickly and using every vice available along the way. In my world, I look for the circumstances or opportunities that arise and the pressures of the individual that lead to seizing those opportunities, and then I attempt to understand how these people have undertaken their bad behaviour and rationalised it into their lives.

With the advancement of technology and the use of electronic means of business, the days of old-fashioned fraudsters and criminals is vanishing, but their ingenuity is not. Schemes are still being developed at Ivy League level, but for me, it is the basic hiding-in-plain-sight schemes I truly admire, like a case I closed recently. Let’s call her Rebecca.

Rebecca was a minor claims processor at a large insurer. She processed hundreds of claims a day, mostly through an automated system, with some manual input where appropriate. For 12 years, Rebecca would manually process and then write back one or two claims a day of between $700 to $1450 and send these claims to her own bank account. But for the changing of her own bank branch banking details, Rebecca would still be unnoticed. Her tedious yet tenacious fraud racked up just over $8 million, without so much as a sideways look from the business. To me, Rebecca is an artist, yet I must stop her, and others like her.

The work of corrupt people, fraudsters, con-artists, bullies, and straight-out criminals has a fairly unfettered existence in most corporate and or government situations, but times are changing. With more vigilance, preventative steps, and decisive investigation actions, we can stem the evil flow and tip the balance toward justice.

Matthew Fleming is a respected investigator for the highest courts and governments around the world. He has more than 30 years experience in law enforcement, forensic consulting, and advisory, including over 23 years of this in leading high-profile corporate and government investigations across the Asia Pacific. Now, as a forensic investigator with KordaMentha, Matthew handles sensitive, challenging engagements, including factual investigations, large-scale global fraud, and corruption matters, as well as complex financial crime, anti-money laundering, and workplace investigations. He has delivered outcomes for his clients in multi-level, multi-jurisdictional, and deeply complex assignments.