ACCOUNTANTS AND super sleuths are rarely associated. However, as the public and investors demand greater corporate accountability, the role of the forensic accountant - a sort of financial private eye - is rapidly emerging. While forensic accounting is a relatively new and sexy term bandied around in the financial world, the discipline is hardly new. In the 1930s, the notorious Chicago mobster Al Capone was finally brought to justice for tax evasion through the work of Elmer Irey, an accountant with the Internal Revenue Service, as much as through the efforts of Capone's legendary nemesis, Eliot Ness. Michael Page Finance, a leading recruiter of professionals for the accountancy sector, said the increasing complexity of the business environment and the growing number of business-related investigations had created a demand for forensic accounting professionals to assist in the investigation of financial and business-related issues. Forensic professionals provide financial, economic and statistical services to companies and their legal advisers involved in litigation, arbitration or mediation, and regulatory investigations or other regulatory issues. They advise on claims processing, serve as expert witnesses, and conduct fraud and forensic investigations. The recruiter said demand for forensic accountants remained consistently high and opportunities existed with the Big Four firms, middle-tier firms and forensic boutiques. Forensic accounting was 'the application of financial, accounting and investigative skills - to a standard acceptable by the courts - to address issues in dispute in the context of civil and criminal litigation', said Chris Fordham, head of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu's forensic and dispute services. Mr Fordham said an international demand for tighter financial regulations and the introduction of Sarbanes-Oxley rules meant many companies now carried out due diligence checks before they conducted business with other enterprises. Forensic accountants also investigate white-collar crime, claims of money laundering, employee fraud and securities violations. 'The work can be exciting as it requires an analytical mind, methodical application and investigative approach,' he said. As the number of hi-tech crimes involving electronic devices continues to rise, members of forensic accounting teams increasingly include former police officers and information technology specialists. Virtually every major accounting firm has a forensics division. Mr Fordham said the growth in forensic accounting worldwide was due, in part, to an explosion of white-collar crime. But it was also a consequence of the economic, political and technological complexity of the modern age. After the September 11 attacks in the United States, forensic accountants helped businesses compile information for insurance claims, recreate payroll records and calculate the costs of machinery and furnishings. Closer to home, Deloitte's forensic accountants investigated the BCCI banking scandal. 'With so much rapid growth and complex corporate activities taking place around the region, the demand for forensic accountants is likely to remain high for the foreseeable future,' Mr Fordham said.