Starting a Cross-Border Investigation

They come without notice and under the cover of night.  They are sometimes in unmarked envelopes or conveyed through whispered phones calls and very often from your very own employees.  They are allegations of corruption, fraud and criminal conduct.

In an ever more vigilant and connected business climate, multinational businesses and organizations are faced with ever increasing claims of corruption, fraud, bribery, or price fixing that span the globe.

Case in point, during the full throws of this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, soccer’s governing body, FIFA, continued to take heat as allegations submitted to the U.K.’s Sunday Times revealed “millions of secret documents – emails, letters and bank transfers – which it alleges are proof that the disgraced Qatari football official Mohamed Bin Hammam made payments totalling US$5m (£3m) to football officials in return for their support for the Qatar bid.”

As a multinational company, how do you even begin to deal with such claims?  Here are some proactive steps companies use to deal with allegations of fraud or criminal conduct before they even arise.  Following these steps are the secret to preventing surprise allegations and starting a cross-border investigation on the right path.

Get the bad news fast.  Particular communication problems arise if the company is based in the U.S. and receives the claim in a foreign jurisdiction.  In a sub-optimal situation, a foreign employee makes an allegation of fraud to a foreign outpost of the U.S. based company which gets lost or worse yet, covered up.  To avoid the criminal and civil ramifications of such a failure of communication, having a rapid response communication plan with customized reporting channels will help tremendously.

Set-up worldwide reporting channels.  A proactive plan should include setting up internal reporting channels for foreign and U.S. based employees to report wrongdoing and ensuring proper and periodic training on such reporting.  Reporting channels would include in-person reporting as well as a company whistleblower or hotline number that ensures claims and allegations are routed to one central location.  Make sure that any such in-person reporting or hotline adheres to country specific employment and data privacy laws.  For example, some foreign countries prohibit anonymous calls, and others require government and/or employee approval.

Make sure criminal allegations are protected and understandable.  Once you have the claim in one central location, it is imperative to protect it, maintain it, and prepare it for distribution.  This likely includes preparing a proper translation of any allegations or claims submitted in a foreign language.

Notify the key investigative personnel.  Once the complaint is captured in one location, protected and ready for distribution, the key compliance personnel should be notified quickly.  This includes identifying far in advance the key company individuals who will assess the claims and setting forth timelines and communication methods for beginning the investigative process.

What other proactive steps do you use for handling cross-border allegations of fraud or criminal conduct?  Let me know, I’d be happy to help you strategize the next steps in the investigative process.