A fascinating interview with the chief fact checker for The New Yorker in the Columbia Journalism Review here got us thinking about the distinction between checking the veracity of facts and finding new ones.
Our firm does both, dealing mostly with the former in due diligence and the latter with asset searches.
The New Yorker’s Peter Canby said that people mistakenly think “the world is divided into facts and opinions, and the checkers just deal with facts.” The more complicated reality, according to Canby, is “fact-based opinions….The way you construct an argument, if there are egregious missing ingredients to it, then it’s something we bring up.”
It’s the reference to “missing ingredients” that got our attention, because an asset search is a hunt for just that: something you think should be there but isn’t. Sometimes people want to call in a forensic accountant to look for the missing assets, and sometimes those accountants succeed.
We’ve written before about the timing between investigation and forensic accounting, in How Investigation Helps Forensic Accountants. Our point there was that “where we can offer help is to find entire new companies that Wife and her accountants (forensic included) did not know existed.”
Of all the tricks in hiding assets, the one that forensic accountants have the hardest time with is finding companies with no paper trail linking them to the companies the accountants already know about.
It’s one thing if Husband’s real estate company rents space from a Nevada LLC, and that Nevada LLC turns out to be controlled by Husband.
But what if Husband has been able to sever all links between his known companies and his secret ones, in effect conducting a parallel business life?
Then, a whole new mindset takes over. We are not doing a forensic investigation, but a right-from-scratch asset search. We look not at the mystery company in the records and instead go out and track down a new company among the billions of facts on line and in paper registries.
It’s not verifying, but a different kind of exercise, and doing it right can be worth thousands or millions of dollars.