FCPAméricas Blog

Corporate Investigations in Latin America, According to Jim Mintz

Author: Matteson Ellis

MintzPic

FCPAméricas sat down recently with Jim Mintz, who runs the global investigations firm the Mintz Group, to get his thoughts on corporate investigations in Latin America.

Describe your approach to corporate investigations.

Lawyers and investigators begin each case knowing little or nothing about the subject company or issue.  It’s like standing outside a high wall. We begin to look for cracks in that wall by doing our homework, talking to the client, gathering paper. And we find some doors in that wall. These cases are often so complex that, after we get through the outer wall, we then find ourselves at the outer layer of a maze of alleged wrongdoing inside a corporate environment. Our job is to work through this maze and get to the truth.

The art of investigation is not one singular skill. It is a journey that you go on that often involves getting people to cooperate and guide you through the complex maze. It is not enough to get people to answer questions. You need their guidance and their introduction to others. You need their help in speaking the language of the industry and of the company, especially as you go deeper toward getting to the bottom of what happened.

In Latin America, many of our investigations involve stripping away layers and getting to relationships and money flows that are initially hidden. We find that we are sometimes the first fact gatherers that have ever come into an industry or an environment. This is because government regulators and prosecutors are relatively weak in many Latin American countries. Though there are a few deep-digging investigative reporters in the region, companies and industries are generally not used to any scrutiny. 

What are specific challenges you see with corporate investigations in Latin America?

A key challenge for corporate investigations in Latin America is that there are often very few records available, so you need to get people to talk to you, candidly and in detail. Making matters more complicated, the information might not be within the four corners of the client. Instead, the answer is out there, somewhere in the world. It might be in the heads of reluctant third parties over whom lawyers and investigators have little power – perhaps former employees, third party consultants, vendors or others. We might be seeking information from a person’s former colleagues, former partners, or competitors. This requires getting outsiders to talk to you.

In situations like this, we have no power over the people we interview – they can hang up on us or slam the door at any time. Given this, we train our investigators to build relationships with people to find out what they know on a specific topic, and to get their help in investigating a world they understand. A great interview gets someone telling detailed stories – filled with names, dates and amounts – stories that may go way beyond what we already knew to ask them about. One key to that kind of success is introducing yourself properly to the person and establishing some measure of trust before you begin asking them anything. The pitch we often make to people is, “I’m working hard, but I need your help.”

What are common mistakes that interviewers tend to make?

Many interviewers are well prepared and come in with a list of questions they want to ask, but they sometimes start firing the questions too early, before the person is comfortable.  Instead, it shows respect to ask a person first to help, without asking them a specific question: “Start me at the beginning…” or “It would help to get a briefing on…”  A common mistake is when interviewers begin by asking the person about themselves, as if the interview were a deposition. No matter how nicely this is done, it often erodes trust by signaling that you are investigating them, rather than seeking their help on some world they know about. It is sometimes hours into an interview before we clarify personal details, like what the person’s title was.

How is your work developing in Latin America?

The investigative business is booming right now in Latin America, as cross border deal making continues to be robust. Work is also starting to come from Latin American businesses pushing out into other areas of the world. We tend to make the observation, “The further from home you go to do a deal, the more investigative work you need to do on the parties there.” We think this applies whether the company is from the United States or from Latin America.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author in his or her individual capacity, and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone else, including the entities with which the author is affiliated, the author`s employers, other contributors, FCPAméricas, or its advertisers. The information in the FCPAméricas blog is intended for public discussion and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal advice to its readers and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It does not seek to describe or convey the quality of legal services. FCPAméricas encourages readers to seek qualified legal counsel regarding anti-corruption laws or any other legal issue. FCPAméricas gives permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author and to FCPAméricas LLC.

© 2015 FCPAméricas, LLC

Matt Ellis

Post authored by Matt Ellis, FCPAméricas Founder & Editor

Categories: Due Diligence, English, FCPA, Internal Investigations

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One Response to “Corporate Investigations in Latin America, According to Jim Mintz”

  1. sosthenes Bichang'a, FCFIP, FCPA, CPA, FCFA Says:

    Many thanks indeed, Matt Ellis for a nice article. The challenges investigators face in Latin America are replicated all around the world. Why?

    Many organizations and even governments that require the services of forensic investigators do not appear to be knowing the difference between a quark investigator and an expert investigator! That is why they use just any person with skills and experience in accounting and auditing. Forensic investigator must be a person that has spent adequate time on training in investigative processes, techniques and procedures.

    Certified Public Accountants or auditors are not to be used in forensic investigation work unless and until they are thoroughly retrained in forensic investigation skills.

    Corporate investigation is quite different ballgame from accounting and auditing and therefore the players must also be specifically trained for that purpose.

    The International Institute of Certified Forensic Investigation Professionals Inc trains and retrains professionals to become all round forensic investigation experts that can handle any situation that requires investigation.

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