Posts Categorized: Due diligence
Hiding in plain sight
July 11 2021
There is always a clue. Sometimes more than one. Often hiding in plain sight, if only others used their eyes.
On Friday, Wayne Couzens, a former Metropolitan Police officer and member of the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Squad, authorised to carry a firearm, pleaded guilty to the murder of Sarah Everard earlier this year. He had earlier pleaded guilty to her kidnap and rape. The story of what he did to her is harrowing.
Despite his planning and attempts to cover his tracks, he gave his police mobile number to the firm from which he hired the car he used for the kidnap. That mistake (or arrogance) was what caught him. The number plate was caught on CCTV next to where Sarah was last seen and the telephone numbers were run through the police database. One can only imagine the reaction and shock of those doing that search when they realised that their prime suspect was a serving police officer, moreover one who would have had to go through an enhanced level of vetting for his role and his authority to carry firearms.
Perhaps they should not have been so shocked. Following his arrest, we learnt that a few days earlier he had been caught indecently exposing himself elsewhere in South London. No action was taken and the reasons for this are the subject of a separate police investigation.
This weekend we also learnt that:-
1. He had been accused of indecent exposure six years ago, again with no action being taken.
2. When in the Civil Nuclear Constabulary protecting Sellafield, his nickname among colleagues was “The Rapist” because his behaviour towards women colleagues was so creepy.
It would not be surprising if more were to come out about his behaviour and attitudes. As of now there are 12 police officers in at least two police forces under investigation with regard to what they did or did not do re the investigation and the Everard murder.
There are a number of points worth making, even on the basis of this limited information.
1. It is usually best to avoid hiring wrong’uns into your organization. Or at least try to. An obvious point perhaps but one which is not in practice always taken as seriously as it should be. Keeping someone out is a whole load easier and less time-consuming than trying to get them out later. The refusal to admit a mistake was made, the belief in HR development and appraisals are powerful forces favouring inertia.
2. Checking CVs, due diligence, vetting really matter. Small inconsistencies, missing information, stories which do not add up, which do not correspond with what was said in interview, which are changed are warning signs and should never be ignored. They too often are. Vetting is too often outsourced to juniors far away, too often treated as an administrative step to be completed rather than as a key part of the decision-making process. If someone warns you about a person’s reputation (as happened with a notorious fraudster) don’t ignore it just because you don’t have a procedure to deal with with it. Due diligence is not a paper exercise: it is trying to find out about a person’s character, what they are like when they are not shiny faced and trying to impress you.
Bluntly, if the Met’s enhanced vetting allowed someone like this to hold a firearm and guard Parliamentarians, what is the point of it? Or was it the case that it simply was not done well – or at all?
3. Remember that, whatever sector you are in, you are managing risk. If someone dubious gets past your first line of defence, they’ve learnt that your defences are not great. They’ve learnt how to fool you and get away with it. How seriously do you think they’re going to take your training and your other defence systems? How are you going to manage a risk you don’t even know you have?
4. Don’t ignore the small stuff. Not every person indecently exposing themself goes on to rape and murder. Not every person telling a lie on a CV becomes a fraudster. But can you tell the difference between those who will and those who won’t? And do you want to take the risk of getting it wrong?
Perhaps indecent exposure (a crime) was seen as a bit of a joke? Perhaps creepy behaviour towards women was seen as him simply being a bit of a lad? Maybe the women were seen as unduly sensitive and their concerns downplayed? The police investigations may reveal answers.
But what about the much more common small lie – often handwaved away as “small” and so unimportant, forgetting that it is the fact of lying which matters not what the lie is about? Most of the major fraudsters in recent history lied about seemingly unimportant things at an early stage in their career. Their lies were ignored. They learnt they could lie and get away with it. They did not stop there.
There are always clues. They tell a story. It’s one we should read with care.
Same old, Same Old
March 30 2021
Perhaps there was a clue in the name: Archegos. Arch. Egos. As a description of many in finance it can scarcely be bettered. A novelist might even think it a tad too unbelievable, unless you were seeking to write satire.
But why bother when reality serves it up on a plate.
The founder of Archegos Capital Management, Bill Hwang described himself in 2008 as “like a little child looking for where can I invest to please our God.” Not long after – in November 2009 – Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein described bankers as “doing God’s work“. Oh dear. The full extent of what bankers had been doing had yet to reveal itself, whether to God or anyone else. Still, PR advisors would do well to note that such statements do not impress. Rather they tend to bring to mind the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote:
“The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons.”
Back to Mr Hwang. At the time of his humblebrag he was running Tiger Asia Management, which ended up being one of the largest investors in the expanding and profitable Asian market.
What God thought of Mr Hwang’s activities is unknown. What the SEC thought is, however. For in 2012 following a lengthy investigation, also involving the HK regulator, he pleaded guilty to insider trading and manipulation relating to trading in various Chinese stocks in late 2008 / early 2009. Surely not when he was trying to please God? Yes, apparently so.
A humongous fine inevitably followed. And almost as inevitably, the following year in 2013 Tiger Asia Management was wound up and Archegos rose, Phoenix-like in its place.
Now it is in trouble as a result of risky and very large investments having soured. Also in trouble are a number of banks which funded it, provided it with services and helped it trade. Questions no doubt are being asked – and, if not, they should be – about banks’ exposure to the firm, was this within risk limits, why so much leverage and so on. Other questions might also be asked: what due diligence was done? Was a fund run by a convicted insider dealer really a suitable client? How was it monitored? And so on.
Still, since bragging seems to be the fashion, might I modestly refer you to this article and my comments on what is often found when something goes wrong: “…so often, in virtually every case, there were bloody great red flags, or there was a clue that was missed.”
The name might have permitted a wry smile. Mr Hwang’s track record should not have done. Does no-one ever read this stuff?
January 23 2020
One of the saddest aspects of the One Coin scam perpetrated by the now missing Dr Ruja Ignatova is how unsophisticated (and, indeed, poor) savers in African countries were specifically targeted using the claim that this wonderful new cryptocurrency technology would bring easy finance (and all its many advantages) to the unbanked. OneCoin was presented as practically a social service and a revolution in finance which would transform the prospects of those whom traditional finance providers had ignored.
All too good to be true?
Of course. And what this meant in practice for those believing these claims can be heard here in the BBC’s radio documentary – The Missing Cryptoqueen. What it also meant for those involved in handling the money she made was rather more traditional – convictions for fraud and money-laundering.
Investors believed what they hoped was true and failed to ask some basic and obvious questions. If there was no blockchain how could this new currency really be a cryptocurrency? And what was the track record of the person behind it? If they had, they might have learnt that there was no blockchain and that Dr Ignatova had form, having received in 2016 a suspended sentence and fine from a German court for her role in relation to a German metallurgical factory taken over by her, asset stripped and then left to go bankrupt in 2009.
Past performance can sometimes be a guide to the future, it seems.
So what might an investor make of an opportunity to invest in a new venture which will:-
- Package new and existing mortgages into securities to be sold to investors
- The mortgages to be sold to people who have a low uptake of these products, preferring to use their savings to buy land and build property
- In a country – Ghana – with high interest rates and a very recent banking crisis, which resulted in 7 Ghanaian banks collapsing
- On the basis of a study, whose authors have not been revealed, which apparently states that there are plenty of people able to afford a $50,000 mortgage among the 9 million Ghanaians earning more than $11 a day (a munificent annual income of $4,015)
- Promoted by a convicted fraudster (responsible for the UK’s biggest fraud). Yes, Kweku Adoboli is back (though this time it is the economy of Ghana he plans to grow and the balance sheets of (presumably) the remaining Ghanaian banks he wants to expand)
- Who declines to say who his business partners are
- But expects banks to be shareholders in the new venture (assuming actual and potential conflicts of interest can be properly managed)
- And who is still being economical with the actualité of the reasons why he was convicted and imprisoned.
But it is good to see that he has developed a sense of humour – if this quote is genuine: “The day when I deliver my first profit to someone, that will be a good day.”
The injunction “Let the buyer beware” is as sound as ever.