Kroll is frequently asked by law firms whether we are able to help with asset searches ahead of contemplated litigation or during a dispute. If a plaintiff’s claim is to have any real meaning in a litigation situation at the end of the day, law firms representing a plaintiff need documentary evidence of the assets of the defendant. This is not, however, always as straightforward as it seems because, in a very large number of instances, proof of ownership is considered confidential. Additionally, while a law firm might know where to get relevant information on some assets, Kroll can make a real difference in asset search situations in ways that may not be available to law firms or other consulting firms.
For example, all too often we are asked whether we can identify assets in jurisdictions such as Indonesia and the Philippines. I mention these two jurisdictions specifically because (a) many non-local companies seem to get themselves into difficulties in these countries, and (b) it is especially difficult to determine ownership given the culture of opaque corporate structures. However, a critical question that should be asked at the very outset is: “Do we actually have any chance of winning (or enforcing) a case in Indonesia or the Philippines,” to which the answer is likely to be “no”. In this instance, we would suggest that the client look for assets outside of these countries, in a jurisdiction with a more transparent regulatory environment. Here Kroll can help.
Imagine needing to investigate the assets of an entity whom a client is considering taking action against. It turns out that these assets are not only well hidden, but also hidden in a more opaque jurisdiction. By deploying human assets, however, Kroll can gather vital intelligence which can potentially change the course of the search and the outcomes. I recall one case related to a contractor in the resource sector who had caused millions of dollars of damage in an Asian country and then fled. While a regular document check found nothing, Kroll was able to generate credible intelligence on the individual. Our discreet enquiries resulted in suggestions that the subject had business in Latin America. Being a global firm, Kroll was then able to verify and search company databases in that Latin American country and prove that the individual did indeed have corporate assets in that country, a jurisdiction where the client was able to take action.
I managed a similar case in Asia where a law firm client and Kroll had exhausted all options of retrieving records. Through the use of human assets, in this case, a surveillance team, we were able to determine that the subjects made frequent visits to Western Australia and an African country. On-the-ground intelligence-gathering led to the retrieval of critical documents which, again, enabled the client to take action.
The common denominator in these cases is that by using discreet human intelligence, Kroll was able to change the theatre of operations and provide a new environment for the client to take action.
While this tactic is tried and tested, the entire industry is going through a radical shift at the moment with the development of third-party applications able to search and make links on social media. These apps make it possible to see connections on social media and other platforms, even when people think they are being careful. In a recent case, we found a subject’s teenage son boasting on Twitter about being on “the yacht”, giving away his location. Using Google Earth, we were able to triangulate his location, while another more detailed map was able to tell us which restaurants overlooked the yacht. By searching pictures of people on Trip Advisor and Instagram, we were able to identify the yacht when a kindly person posed in front of it. Another third-party application told us where the yacht had been, and against this data we were able to obtain documentation from those locations.
The bottom line is that Kroll sees these kinds of problems all the time, and we may very well have innovative approaches that may help you and your clients when confronted by an unusual situation.