Working in the Middle East can be a very rewarding experience. It can also be a very frustrating one, especially for someone who has attempted to conduct a fraud investigation here. Varying and outdated laws, different cultures, a large expatriate community and a lack of understanding on how to conduct an investigation are some of the issues that one has to overcome.
To start with, one cannot group any two Middle East countries together (even within the Gulf Cooperation Council) as the laws vary. One needs to familiarize himself with the law in the country. A good starting point would be the laws surrounding document retention along with laws on evidence (handling and submission), interview rules, and rules on written statements.
Evidence submission is a key aspect for one to understand. Electronic evidence has only recently been accepted in most courts in the Middle East with new laws being
continuously drafted. This could mean that scanned copies of invoices, emails, and social media evidence might not be admissible as evidence in a court of law and/or there might be strict rules regarding their submission. Understanding the right laws around evidence and having a proper document retention strategy to support the case is instrumental to its success.
Interviews and the associated written statements are part and parcel of any investigation. Whether legal representation is required during interviews or at the time written statements are given , you need to make sure you follow the law.
It requires a lot of compliance to ensure a legally correct submission to the court.
“Owners want internal audit to carry out investigations in a short time span”
Internal Audit and Fraud investigations are two very different things. If one is working for a family run business, the approach to fraud investigations might very well be “just have internal audit look at it”. This can be problematic as most auditors do not know the laws pertaining to investigations, interview techniques, or case management. If one works for a company that has the Internal audit department handle its investigations, my advice would be to train them in fraud techniques, certify them, and never the less try to hire an experienced investigator for the department.
Secondly, understanding the culture of your organization is key to your success, and it is especially true in the GCC. Owners here tend to want investigations to be done in a very short time span, which if not handled properly, can lead to mistakes in the investigation process.
I have undergone various training sessions on fraud techniques, but very few address Middle East issues. An example is handling anonymous written statements and ways to analyze their content when dealing with non native English speakers. As an expatriate working in the Middle East, you are dealing with a variety of cultures. English is not the first language. As a result, spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, handwriting, and looking for word emphasis makes analysis of the statement difficult as it could be attributed to lack of English skills or to other reasons.
While there are more aspects to be aware of in any fraud investigation, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere, it is important to take into account the specific complexities of your region to ensure a successful investigation.
MUSTAFA ZACOUR, CFE, CIA is an Ethics and Compliance Officer at Shell in the Middle East.