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1 February 2017

Investigating cross-border financial crime: what's in your toolkit?

Elizabeth Reid

When investigating possible crime and fraud, many firms rely on common "go-to" resources for collecting intelligence: public registries, freely available databases, targeted search engines and various other open-source and subscription tools.

But what happens to your resource arsenal when an investigation takes you overseas? How effective is your toolkit when a probe crosses multiple borders?

For many compliance teams researching criminal activities, the investigation begins by identifying a company or person and its corporate structure and connections. While the tools mentioned above can aid in some domestic investigations, it gets more challenging when an investigative team must uncover connections across many countries.

"Depending on the location, an investigative team may be impeded by language, cultural, and jurisdictional barriers, and hostile resistance from foreign governments and affiliates of the target," says Michael Volkov, a veteran white-collar attorney and former federal prosecutor.

Take, for example, the case of Alcoa. The Alcoa case exposed a complex, cross-border bribery and fraud scheme and highlighted a global network of money transfers through numerous companies, some of them in tax havens. In total, the case involved at least 25 corporate entities in 11 countries and four continents over nearly 20 years.

Helping elude investigators for nearly two decades, and stalling them in their six-year probe, were significant obstacles they faced when trying to access information in various jurisdictions. Among the challenges: patchy intelligence. Using multiple open-source and syndicated tools often results in fragmented information – leaving teams the burden of making the initial connections to create the whole picture.

So, how:

  • Does an investigative team with finite resources conduct a complex international probe?
  • Do organizations develop cost-effective strategies and tools in an open-ended global investigation?
  • Does an investigative team verify that its results are accurate and reliable?

A three-step process – with some challenges

1. Identification

The first step is to identify the universe of all possibly related companies. When using open-source tools, an analyst might search the web or multiple country corporate registries. As an example, Bureau van Dijk replicated a search inquiry used in the Alcoa case using common open-source tools. A search of OpenCorporates for "Dadco," the principal company associated with the Alcoa case, returned 130 entities, domiciled from Montana to Romania.

2. Verification

The next step is to verify the companies and their corporate structures. Many investigative teams would turn to individual country registries for this verification process. But even with expertise in other languages, an analyst must know the correct company name to search for and the country in which to search. With 130 possibly connected entities, this manual verification method adds to an already arduous process.

3. Investigation

Once companies and their corporate structures have been verified, leads to investigate should arise. But only if there is clear intelligence on an entity's corporate structure and beneficial ownership, which many databases lack.

Orbis – the definitive resource for private company information and corporate structures

Bureau van Dijk also performed the same sample inquiry using our Orbis platform, without assistance from other platforms, and saved real man-hours.

Orbis, a powerful tool for investigations, includes information on more than 200 million companies across the globe. Information includes corporate ownership structures and beneficial ownership, original filed documents, associated news and independent research – in one platform and in one language. With information in one place and explorable by clickable links, analysts can efficiently and confidently perform crucial initial phases of an investigation, like verifying the identities of entities and beneficial owners, and establishing their connections across borders and industries.

Our new paper explores this case further and takes readers through the common strategies and challenges of investigating across borders.

Full piece on investigating cross-border financial crime

This piece looks at the challenges that cross-border investigations present and how identifying beneficial ownership can help quickly expose duplicitous connections and schemes.

The study:
  • Discusses common challenges and barriers that impede cross-border investigations
  • Showcases the inefficiencies in using only open-source tools such as registries and syndicated databases
  • Explains how Orbis could have expedited the US government's investigation of Alcoa
  • Illustrates the step-by-step process with screenshots

Download the piece.

Elizabeth Reid

Elizabeth Reid, Marketing Manager US and Canada

Elizabeth’s focus is on risk in financial institutions, academia, information and library management, data management, and government.

Elizabeth’s focus is on risk in financial institutions, academia, information and library management, data management, and government.

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