Corporate supersleuth

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 February, 2006, 12:00am

GREED IS GOOD for Joseph Quiazon, but not in the sense Gordon Gekko preached in the film Wall Street.

In fact, as a fraud investigator, Mr Quiazon sits on the other side of the fence. His job is to keep tabs on corporate cheats similar to the character played by Michael Douglas in the film.

'I work on one of the oldest issues around - human greed,' Mr Quiazon said.

'If greed was eradicated, I would be out of job. But I do not think that will ever happen.'

The Philippines-born Australian is executive vice-president for business intelligence and integrity risk at Hill & Associates, a leading risk management and corporate intelligence firm. Mr Quiazon is one of the firm's top detectives.

Mr Quiazon used to be called Dr Death - a nickname he acquired after joining the police force in Victoria, Australia with a university degree in, of all things, arts.

'I had always wanted to do law enforcement,' Mr Quiazon said.

'In my first two or three months, I just happened to be on duty around a lot of fatalities, murders and suicides. I was still a constable on probation when I earned that nickname.'

He became a senior detective in the major fraud squad, which was kept remarkably busy during his time there.

'We had a hundred detectives in five divisions,' Mr Quiazon said.

But they were not just hunting the crooks.

'One division was devoted entirely to investigating corrupt lawyers,' he said.

His work ranged from infiltrating illegal brothels to establishing an anti-crime unit protecting Asian business communities from organised crime and extortion.

Mr Quiazon was the principal investigator of a well-known case involving an Australian lawyer murdered in Cambodia. The lawyer had been involved in a A$40-million ($232 million) trust account embezzlement, the largest fraud involving a solicitor in Australia's history.

The case hit the headlines, and led to Mr Quiazon being headhunted by Arthur Andersen - the former Big Five accountants firm - to lead their new fraud investigation division in Manila.

'There was no better place to cut my teeth in fraud and corruption than Southeast Asia,' Mr Quiazon said.

In one famous case, he helped investigate a multimillion-dollar scandal at Singapore Airlines. The case involved a mid-level supervisor who paid himself cabin crew allowances for 13 years. He was eventually jailed for 24 years.

During this period, Mr Quiazon also completed his law degree.

'I was flying all over the place. Family and friends joked that I owned the most well-travelled law books in the country!'

Mr Quiazon credits his wife, Maria, with helping manage the competing interests of family life and the fast-paced world of risk consulting.

Ironically for Quiazon, Arthur Andersen did not quite practise what it preached. The consulting firm was involved in one of the biggest corporate scandals in history, involving its client Enron.

'The whole house burned down,' Mr Quiazon said.

Arthur Andersen's reputation was hurt - and the Big Five overnight became the Big Four.

All was not lost for Mr Quiazon, though. He joined accounting major KPMG as Asia-Pacific head of anti-money laundering services. He spent three years in Brisbane, Australia and advised numerous financial institutions.

While attending a global forensic conference in Vancouver last year, he was approached by a former FBI agent heading Hill & Associates' business intelligence practice in Hong Kong.

Mr Quiazon was offered a position managing operations across Asia - from Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei to Singapore, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur. He could not resist the temptation to work in Asia.

'I accepted the offer straight away,' he said. 'In the work we do, this region is a buzz.'

The buzz was especially loud for China. When foreign companies want to partner with mainland companies, or when the latter want to list on the Hong Kong stock exchange, Hill & Associates is one of the firms that runs background investigations.

'It is about due diligence and risk avoidance,' Mr Quiazon said.

'We look behind the numbers and the people. If someone was a peasant farmer one minute and a corporate director the next, you have to ask where the money came from. This is common sense if you are embarking on a major business venture and investment.

'When the economic tide is low, the rocks of bad risk are easier to spot. When the tide is high in buoyant times, you do not see the rocks because they are easy to miss - but they are still there. The question is not whether you see the rocks, but whether you look for them.'

And if anyone leaps before they look and it goes wrong, they still go to Hill & Associates to find out where the money went.

Fraud investigation is an exciting field. A number of television dramas feature characters in the profession. Jason Donovan stars as a forensic accountant - as people in Mr Quiazon's profession are often called - in an Australian show.

'There is a natural fascination with what we do,' Mr Quiazon said. 'It is a sexy area of the corporate world, and we have no shortage of applications. I have a thick file of people who want to join. It includes lawyers, accountants, analysts, policemen and even journalists.

'The downside, if you like to tell stories, is that you cannot talk too much about it [the work]. I have to bite my tongue sometimes when I am working on large corporate collapses.

'Our work is carried out discreetly, with integrity and confidentiality. It is a discipline you develop with time and experience. People who become aware of being investigated have ways of letting you know that they know.'

To be a successful investigator requires the qualities of a true detective.

'You have to keep an open mind, and be flexible and willing to try new things,' Mr Quiazon said.

'A true professional demonstrates respect in dealing with people from all walks of life. I was taught you could attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.

'The principle of investigation is simply never to give up - and I mean never.'


Executive director

Salary commensurate with qualifications, experience and expertise

15 years' experience or more

Specialist (computer forensics, intelligence analyst) $70,000 and up

10 to 15 years' experience or more

Senior manager $50,000 to $70,000

10 years' experience or more

Manager $25,000 to $50,000

Five to 10 years' experience

Senior associate/ research analyst $15,000 to $25,000

Three to five years' experience

Graduate recruit/associate $10,000 to $15,000

One to three years' experience

Career Tips

Keep an open mind

Never give up

Believe in yourself

Study - life is a continuous learning experience

Do not compromise on integrity