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Character and Behavior: The Other Red Flags of Fraud

January 30, 2016

Mary Breslin, CFE, CIA
President, Empower Audit

I sat in front of my boss, the general counsel for the organization I worked for, waiting for our meeting to begin. I was still searching for the right words to explain to him why I wanted to widen the scope of an audit in Zambia and conduct some specific fraud auditing techniques. I wasn’t sure whether or not I should admit that while my team had found some exceptions on day one of the audit, my real suspicions had arisen from the Zambia general manager’s personal behavior.

Two issues had been identified: First, a cash advance had been taken out by an employee on behalf of the general manager and given to an individual who was not an employee. After some careful questioning, it was revealed that the individual was the general manager’s mistress, who needed money to pay her rent while he was out of the country on a business trip. The advance had been repaid by the general manager immediately upon his return. As a part of that conversation, it was also revealed that he requested the cash advance because he didn’t want his wife to see a large cash withdrawal from his bank account. Okay, not a great guy, but nothing I hadn’t seen before. It was a clear policy violation for use of the funds, but it had been repaid.

The second issue came later that day during a payroll and benefits review. Apparently the general manager had added a new dependent that year to his benefits, and we assumed he and his wife had adopted a child while living in Africa. When I asked accounting, they introduced me to this “dependent” who happened to be in the office — his wife. And I mean his “other” wife. In many parts of Africa polygamy is still practiced, however this gentleman was from England and I knew he had a wife and two children — also his dependents — still in England. Add the mistress to this cozy arrangement and I was starting to get pretty concerned. Wouldn’t you?

After having dinner with the general manager and, I admit, a few beers later, he confessed his love for women, pretty much all women, and admitted there might be other wives. Wait, what?

I explained my concerns regarding the general manager’s character to my boss, and we dug a little deeper and crossed over into a true fraud audit. Based on what we found, that quickly turned into a fraud investigation.

So what did we find? To start, we found four wives in four countries… and a couple of mistresses. We also found a company he owned with a wife in South Africa that was established strictly as a pass-through scheme for supplies. We found $18 million worth of tax payments that were misappropriated — not used to pay taxes. The tax authorities had actually been getting ready to take action against us. And there was more.  In addition to the obvious issues — all of the women — and the financial pressure those issues caused him, there were other red flags. The general manager was a micromanager and a control freak. He required his staff to bring him every file and document we requested for his review before they would give it to my team. I generally call that a “clue.” Luckily for the organization, this was a profitable location. By bringing in a skilled executive to control the money, the company was quickly able to get the location back on track. So what happened to the general manager? I’m not sure, maybe I could ask one of his wives. Actually, because he was such a profitable general manager, he was “counseled” and he kept his job. It happens.