Constructing a profile of someone’s international financial footprint can be a particularly challenging task, especially in instances where concealment tactics have been deliberately applied. Uncovering assets and interests of sophisticated fraudsters who hide behind complex and opaque offshore business structures can often be difficult to demystify.
As global data compliance and privacy laws continue to evolve, access to personal and corporate information becomes ever more restricted. Therefore when considering an asset profiling exercise, it is important to understand what information might be available.
This will very much depend on the jurisdictions where you believe assets may be hidden. Information accessibility differs significantly from country to country, so what might be publically available in one jurisdiction, won’t necessarily be accessible in another. Jurisdictional research will also impact project cost and timescales. In order to properly manage client expectations you need to know from the outset what can be achieved.
Asset tracing and financial profiling is a specialist service that requires a blend of skills incorporating open source intelligence analysis, data mining, remote research, and field investigation.
Many jurisdictions do not store records electronically which means remote access to information such as land and property registers is not always a possibility. Having a physical presence to provide local intelligence is a major benefit, particularly when tracing assets in emerging countries where hard data might be vague and misleading. Field intelligence can also be used as a means to provide visible evidence of current lifestyle and moveable assets such as vehicles.
Asset concealment is often attempted by forming corporate entities in tax-friendly jurisdictions in an effort to mask true beneficial ownership (TBO). Commonly used offshore tax havens include the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands (BVI), and nearshore Channel Islands. The U.S State of Delaware is also frequently utilised for this purpose. Such structures are generally incorporated by a nominee agent acting on behalf of the TBO, often only recording the nominee’s details on official documents.
Offshore doesn’t necessarily mean that corporate data is completely beyond reach, it just means that limited or minimal information is recorded on company documentation. Dependent on the jurisdiction of incorporation, some data might be accessible electronically otherwise a physical attendance may be required to view official records. In securing all records available there is no guarantee that they will reveal links to TBO. However in some instances corporate shareholdings might be listed which can enable research to be expanded. It is often a ‘look see’ exercise to determine what is available, but nevertheless an important part of the investigation process which should not be overlooked.
Many information records can be accessed globally without leaving a search footprint. This is a common request when clients such as financial institutions are in ongoing debt workout negotiations and would prefer a covert assessment of an individual’s asset portfolio. However, it is not always possible to secure records in certain jurisdictions without providing written proof of debt or evidence of ongoing legal proceedings.
Using land registers as an example; property ownership details are publically available in the UK once an address has been identified. However, in countries such as Germany and Cyprus for instance, an official request for release of title/deeds records must be made to the local registry outlining a legitimate legal reason why the data is required. This clearly creates a search footprint.
A key component to achieving positive results in a global asset profiling exercise is knowing in advance what types of primary information is legally accessible in the jurisdictions of interest.