Mr. Derek Elmer is I-OnAsia’s Chairman. This article provides his views on navigating asset tracing and recovery. Derek has overseen thousands and thousands of asset tracing, investigations, for corporate and private clients.
When it comes to asset tracing, I am often asked, “What sets I-OnAsia apart from a Big Four accounting company or an experienced law firm?” My short answer to this is that I-OnAsia has a deeper understanding of how people hide assets. We have a successful track record and deep experience carrying out these investigations.
Since its inception nearly 21 years ago, I-OnAsia has taken on countless investigations, nearly 17,000 to date, and rising. One of the most commonly requested tasks that we carry out is asset tracing. For example, I-OnAsia has traced large classic car collections worth nearly a billion US dollars, which we found in an isolated warehouse. In another interesting example, we recovered a ‘hidden‘ Boeing 747 Aircraft for a SE Asian Airline.
Typically, clients want to know where the location of an asset is and its value after there is a judgement. But, sometimes we are asked to scope things out much earlier in the process, particularly for UHNW clients in divorce proceedings.
So, what is an asset?
Well, an asset can be property including but not limited to land, stocks and shares, possessions, undeclared bank accounts, company assets, vehicles, livestock, aircraft, vessels and, of course, money of any currency, even crypto currency which has recently been determined property.
To recover any assets hidden in Hong Kong or overseas, you first have to check if they actually exist and can be found, otherwise you could be incurring expensive legal fees and unnecessary litigation costs chasing after something that no longer exists.
So how is asset tracing successfully done?
There are number of factors that make an asset tracing investigation easier, or more complex. Some asset tracing searches start with Computer Forensics. Some start with Open Source Investigations (OSINT) and Dark Web Searches. Sometimes Human Source Investigation (HUMINT) techniques are necessary because of the very limited knowledge you have on the subject person/s or the asset itself.
Through OSINT key information can be obtained in a variety of ways, anything from directly assessing public registers, land registry records, company registers, company records, register of non-profit organisations, court records, tax records, vehicle registration register, criminal records, register of bank accounts, immigration records, border crossing and customs records, to name just a few which all help build the insights to tracking the assets and joining the dots.
There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to asset tracing and building these insights. However, I-OnAsia has developed successful techniques to ensure global success. We get the answers quickly, and efficiently find the assets.
In cases where publicly accessible information is limited, other private investigation techniques (such as surveillance) is valuable. This can get precise information on where assets are hidden by third parties in foreign jurisdictions. I-OnAsia has a trusted investigations source network, from New York to London through the Middle East to Asia and in Australia. I-OnAsia has global coverage and delivers results when others have failed.
We have supported and helped countless clients identify assets globally and provided them with deeper insights into known and unknown assets, resulting in thousands of dollars in additional settlement costs that they would never have obtained if they hadn’t of chosen to pursue their gut feeling that there were more assets out there.
Our Greater China team is also considered an “OG” in the crypto space – we have been active in the crypto tracing game for a very long time and have found and traced crypto currency accounts with some pretty spectacular results.
Computer forensics is also key to asset tracing and often required in asset tracing proceedings. I-OnAsia has over its 21 years formed close relationships with trusted partners. When our forensic partners get involved with our certified fraud examiners and global investigative teams, we find great leads to hidden assets.
Can you share a Case Study?
One of our happy clients wrote to us and said recently, “You Got insights we couldn’t have from any other vendor.”
Here is what happened….
It actually took place in Hong Kong when a business partner suddenly emptied the company account and absconded abroad to the USA. The asset involved was over $10 million in cash, some of which had been transferred into crypto currency.
In this particular case, when the fraudulent director was tracked down, by our New York office, we discovered… through solid gumshoe investigative work…
· What other assets the fraudster had…
· What the value of the assets were…..
· What the ownership structure was and the transfer from one person to another to try and conceal……
· What jurisdiction(s) the assets where located in……
· How liquid the assets were…….
· What were the chances of a recovery……
Armed with this information, our client made great decisions on…
· Whether to proceed with litigation or not….
· What they could protect the assets in the meantime to ensure that they could still be recovered……
· What the requirements for obtaining a freezing injunction were, when the assets were now outside of the jurisdiction they were taken from, achieved through seeking good legal counsel.
· The process to engage the opponent and encourage early settlement…….
I believe that as we look ahead, asset tracing is going to become more and more of a requirement as companies struggle in very challenging financial times, we are already seeing a number of inquiries from clients who are asking the questions as to the nature and complexity of asset tracing as debts begin to grow and companies and directors fail to meet payment terms.
I-OnAsia will continue to work hard in tracing the untraceable assets and providing their clients with the strategic advantage in recovering whats rightfully theirs.