Back in January, we posted a story about a Canadian investigative company whose owners, Michael Grontis, Cullen Johnson, and Elaine White, had fleeced their customers out of millions by promising to find assets hidden in offshore accounts. Instead, they created fraudulent bank records and passed them off as real. These crooked investigators’ work has surfaced once again, this time in the divorce of a Malaysian tycoon.
Shahnaz Abdul Majid claims that her husband Datuk Seri Mahmud Abu Bekir Abdul Taib, a prominent Malaysian businessman and government official, is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. She says that much of his wealth is in the form of offshore accounts and investments in foreign companies in Australia, Canada, the U.K., and the U.S.
The problem with Majid’s assertions is that they are based on the “forensic accounting” work of convicted fraudsters Johnson and White. Taib, of course, maintains that he has far less money than his wife thinks he does, and that Johnson and White fabricated records of fictitious overseas accounts and investments. Given that Johnson and White are currently serving a five year prison term for doing just that, his allegations just may be true.
The problem is that he still may be hiding money, and he is more likely to get away with it because Majid used investigators who were willing to break the law to give her what she wanted. Just assume for a moment that the bank records showing foreign accounts were real, she still went about getting them the wrong way. We’re not experts in Malaysian evidence rules, but in the U.S., what reasonable judge would even glance at bank records that are unauthenticated and illegally obtained by an investigator?
Any investigator or forensic accountant worth their salt should have explained the dangers of illegally obtaining bank records and the advantages of doing things the right way. As we tell our clients all the time, accessing someone’s bank records without their permission or a court order violates federal and state law, and can lead to criminal prosecution. Even though we can’t get bank records, we can often find more than enough information through legal means to help you determine a spouse’s net worth.
We can identify real property, stocks, corporate holdings, deferred compensation, pensions, and countless other forms of assets through public record searches. Interviews with former employees or business partners can also tell you where a debtor or his companies do their banking. You can then issue appropriate discovery demands or subpoena records directly from the debtor’s bank.
In the end, following the rules will get you more and better information, and it will also ensure that the information you find can be used to your benefit in court.