Foil Company Hijacking

Background checks are more important than ever in corporate South Africa

Hi-Tech Security Solutions

01 October 2010


A substantial portion of the R90-billion that white collar crime costs South Africa annually, which includes hijacking of complete businesses, can be avoided by thoroughly screening business associates and company employees.

Ina van der Merwe, CEO of South Africa’s largest background screening company, MIE, says white collar crime has reached such proportions that foreign companies were now thinking twice before they invested in the country.

“The complete hijacking of a number of companies established as local representatives for foreign corporate has sent shockwaves through the international business community. One of the clear messages that have emerged from these illegal takeovers was the fact that the foreign parent company had made little or no attempt to screen the South African executives that had been appointed to run these entities.”

Dave Loxton who is the head of forensics at law firm Werksmans Incorporated says the audacity of the perpetrators was breathtaking.

“When we initially became aware of the problem it seemed like something that came straight off the pages of a spy novel. We were approached about two years ago by a group of European investors who had set up an operation in South Africa and made a point of it to employ only local people. About a year after the office was opened, one of the investors paid a visit to the country and discovered that the entire operation had been moved to new premises and that the executives they had appointed took everything with them including suppliers, clients, staff, price lists and products.”

Van der Merwe says a problem with either employing staff without vetting their background – and this included top management – was that it was often extremely difficult to get rid of them once they were uncovered. In cases where employees had been involved in actions that caused material loss to their company because they lacked the qualifications they laid claim to, it was often difficult or even impossible to prosecute.

Loxton says despite their best efforts to prosecute the case of company hijacking, the case went nowhere and the perpetrators walked away free men.

He says one of the most important causes of the fraud was the fact that the foreign investors who had employed the local executives made no attempt whatsoever to check their CVs. Had they done so, they would have uncovered several serious criminal offenses including theft and fraud.

Van der Merwe agrees saying that up to 18% of CVs are problematic in that they contain both outright lies as well as misrepresentations.
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