on assignment, Moscow

on assignment, Moscow

16.03.2012 | Switzerland calling

Ambrose Carey is profiled by Swiss newspaper Handelszeitung.

​A Case for Ambrose

By Olivia Kühni

More and more Swiss banks are turning to private investigators. They look into thorny clients and identify risks.

Ambrose Carey stretches out the paper roll along the conference table made out of dark wood. It is late afternoon and below on the street, men in suit trousers and white shirts are swarming to the pubs on Oxford Street. Carey taps his slender index finger on the several-metre-long expanse of paper. “This here”, he says, “is probably the world’s leading family tree for the Saudi Royal Family”. If a client was to ask him about Khaled Abdullah, then he would take out the paper roll and reply “I’m presuming you are talking about the King’s eldest son, not the Khaled Abdullah from the Abdul-Raham branch of the family?”

Carey is no genealogist. Rather he is a private investigator with a specialism in money laundering and corruption, and the founder of the forensics firm Alaco in London. His industry is currently experiencing a surge in demand – most notably from Swiss financial institutions. In Zurich itself the number of specialist detectives has also grown. It fluctuates around 130 to 150 – three times more than five years ago. The market leaders are the large accountancy firms Deloitte, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young. But small firms also offer the same services. Such as Peter Cosandey. The former district attorney opened his own office in Zurich in 2005. “Until 13 years ago, there was practically nothing in Switzerland”, he says.  Now demand has exploded.

This is down to Washington. The US authorities have been working for years on tougher sentencing for bribery, money laundering, infringement of sanctions and cartel arrangements. In 2009 Credit Suisse paid around 500 million dollars of fines because its bankers were dealing with Iraq in contravention of US sanctions. In turn, UBS paid 780 million dollars to end a legal dispute over assisting tax evasion. The trend spilled over into Europe long ago. In the future, tax-related offences will amount to support of money laundering under OECD plans.

Legal Bastions

“It is becoming harder and harder”, says David Fidan. “The USA want their rules on fair competition to apply to everyone”. The expert became a new partner at Deloitte’s forensics department days ago. He will be advising financial institutions among other things on the new American FATCA tax laws. The dispute with the United States over taxation is a perfect example of the new reality, Fidan explains. “those that themselves cater for US clients from Switzerland had to, and have to, constantly ensure that they are not infringing applicable US laws”.

For this reason, Swiss banks are building their huge compliance departments into real legal bastions. On top of this, in sensitive cases they are bringing in external advisors as well – these have specialist knowledge and stand outside of the system. This can, particularly when there are corruption cases in [the banks’] own companies, prove decisive.

Ambrose Carey, the man with the family tree of the Royal Family, also recently received a call from the legal department of a Swiss bank. A Saudi wanted to deposit money there, the institution explained. There were rumours that this man was involved in financing Islamic terrorism. “If that is true, as a Swiss bank one does not want to be linked to it”, says Carey.

In the upper floor of his office, around 20 employees from all corners of the world sit table to table – a Polish investigative journalist, a Jordanian lawyer, a Greek economist. In the case of the bank, it was the Jordanian that coordinated the research. He made phone calls, he tasked people in Riyadh and Mecca, he trawled through archives. There were no grounds for the terrorism allegation. But the contact in Mecca discovered something else: the Saudi clearly had very close relations with the Saudi palace – i.e. to politically exposed persons (PEPs). In Riad he actually shared a villa with members of the Al Saud family. Carey’s people discovered this in the “Um al Qora” Mecca gazette, an official document from the holy city that can only be obtained in print form, and in Arabic. Carey warned the bank. The decision for or against a client relationship was made, however, in Switzerland. “We only give the institutions the knowledge that they need to make their decision”.

“For us, the work never goes away.”

The inquiries into possible libor manipulation at several banks shows the importance of internal forensic checks.  Because UBS reported itself to the competition authorities, it received no fine. The institution has a similar choice – a private investigator has no obligation to make disclosures to the authorities. “The responsibility basically lies with the client” says Deloitte expert Fidan. “Indeed we can advise on the risks that it faces with regard to a disclosure”. The decision, however, falls to the company, in consultation with its lawyers. Even if it decides on keeping quiet, the checks will not have been in vain. “If someone blows the whistle, one has a firmer grip on the steering wheel”.

In his London office, Ambrose Carey rolls the Saudi family tree up again. Outside in front of the pub on the corner, the bankers are standing and drinking their end-of-work beer. The work will never go away for his sector, Carey says and smiles. “There are figures from places like Angola or Saudi Arabia that I would regularly like to thank, because they keep us in business.”

Forensic Services
A Young Growth Market

New Field for a Career The first office in Switzerland was started by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 1995 with the creation of a forensic department. Today PwC has around 30 specialists and brings in more when needed.  KPMG now has around 60, Ernst & Young around 25 and Deloitte 52. On top of this come small service providers, in part local offices of foreign vendors.

Investigators The heads of small offices are often former state prosecutors with expertise in financial crime.  Within the teams work financial controllers, former police officers, lawyers or economists. Increasingly there is a demand for IT experts – at Deloitte these account for half of the team. They develop software that can search emails for key words. 

Article courtesy of Redaktion Handelszeitung

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