ICAC’s former acting operations head joins private investigative firm

Rebecca Li, whose departure from the ICAC last year sparked an uproar, joins Berkeley Research to help companies crack down on corruption

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 April, 2017, 7:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 April, 2017, 7:02am

The former acting head of operations for Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), Rebecca Li Bo-lan – whose departure from the anti-graft agency last year sparked controversy – on Monday joined commercial investigative firm Berkeley Research Group.

Berkeley, an investigative firm set up in California seven years ago, entered the Asia market two years ago with Hong Kong as its regional headquarters. It conducts due diligence on behalf of investment banks for merger deals and initial public offering candidates, providing background checks on any suspected fraud and corruption.

Li was appointed a director in the firm’s global investigations and strategic intelligence practice with responsibility to help companies look into corruption and prevent such malpractice.

First woman to lead ICAC’s Operations Department is replaced in major shake-up at Hong Kong’s anti-corruption body

She was with the ICAC for 30 years and climbed to the top of the organisation ranks as the first female acting head of operations, but her departure in July 2016 sparked controversy. Suspicions were raised about whether Li’s departure was linked to an investigation into Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who received HK$50 million from an Australian engineering firm before becoming the city’s leader.

Speaking with the South China Morning Post before her appointment on Monday, Li declined to talk about her departure from the ICAC, preferring to focus on her new role.

“My previous experience at the ICAC would be valuable to help companies identify if they have corruption problems and to establish anti-bribery systems to prevent corruption,” she said.

“Companies should not only focus on domestic anti-corruption but they should also have an eye on international law related to corruption. They would also need to implement a whistle blower system to report any allegations on corruption,” she said. 

The US and UK bribery laws require that companies conducting business overseas need to ensure their counterparties or agents also follow all anti-corruption guidelines.

Corruption and other fraud would not only result in companies losing money, it also damages the reputation of the company
Rebecca Li Bo-lan

Stuart Witchell, managing director of Berkeley Research Group, and the man in charge of the Asia Pacific region, said there is strong demand from Asian and Chinese companies for help in setting up systems that comply with all anti-corruption, money laundering and other international regulations.

“The fines for breaching these rules are huge. Companies would prefer to pay for consulting companies to strengthen their compliance than pay the fines,” he said.

Besides multinational companies in Asia wanting to have compliance systems in place, Witchell said Chinese firms that invest overseas also need such a service to check their internal systems to prevent corruption.

Li said that previously many companies considered it was “nice to have” anti-corruption procedures in house but now they realise it is a “must” to have such measures in place to prevent corruption.

“Corruption and other fraud would not only result in companies losing money, it also damages the reputation of the company,” she said.