Hong Kong consultants in demand to uncover corporate fraud

Consultants are in demand to uncover suspected company fraud and to also filter out applicants with false qualifications seeking top jobs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2012, 4:01am

For politicians, a lapse in integrity can mean public humiliation and the end of their careers. But ethical lapses involving government officials and company executives mean something quite different to one Hong Kong firm.

Verity Consulting says employers are flocking to use its services, including pre-employment checks and corporate fraud investigation, as personal wrongdoing in the political and business spheres hits the headlines.

Managing director Kelvin Ko Chiu said the number of cases it handled in the first half of this year had exceeded the total for the whole of last year.

"When you open any newspaper, they all talk about integrity - of the chief executive or even his predecessor - but not ability. There is such a social propensity, thus, there is such a need," he said.

The company handled 100 pre-employment checks in the first half of this year, up from 80 last year. And more than 80 per cent involved people from the mainland - often applying for senior managerial posts.

The resignation of Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson in May, after an investor revealed that he had not received the university degree he claimed, had raised awareness of the problem of falsified or inflated qualifications, Ko said.

"In the past, they [applicants] bought a certificate. Now, people often hire someone to take the exam. It is really common in international exams," he said.

The former police officer said that in one case an applicant claimed to have a part-time executive MBA from Tsinghua University, but investigations revealed that the student never attended the university and it did not offer such a programme.

Ko, 36, also works with former graft-buster Andy Cheung Yau-chung, director of MAWSL Consulting, who carries out forensic accounting investigations.

Cheung tracks suspicious figures in company accounts while Ko's team goes out to find the evidence to back the findings - including following people, conducting sting operations and forensic computer checks.

Clients pay them to investigate fraud involving suppliers, employees or competitors. Some hire them if they suspect staff have made up reasons for sick leave or have claimed extra reimbursement for business trips.

The pair once investigated a clothing chain on the mainland after an investor complained about exaggerated sales figures.

"It had a 30 per cent increment [in sales] every year despite the recession ... they reported sales activities 24 hours per day," Cheung said.

"We also found that, at the same moment, the same VIP card was being used in eight different places," he said. They sent staff to pose as customers to observe the sales situation in different branches. In the end, the investor withdrew from the company.

The pair said this kind of corporate investigation was common in Europe and the United States, and they hope it will catch on in Hong Kong.