What is the Direction of Canadian Corporate Fraud?
I will let you read it, but the Greg’s notes on it, 1) “97% of companies on the S&P 500 Index pay incentive compensation to executives even when the company is underperforming its peers”, and 2) “FBI Director Robert Mueller recently told Congress that the FBI had 667 ongoing probes into corporate fraud and 1,700 open cases of securities fraud.”
In case the authors are correct in their observation that crime is not down we are just numb to it, why don’t we do a quick “lest we forget” and recount: Bernard Madoff, Jeffrey Skilling, Kenneth Lay, Dennis Kozlowski, John Rigas, Joe Nacchio, James McDermott Jr., Sam Waksal, Sam Israel, Bernie Ebbers (see the Time article, here, called Top 10 Crooked CEOs).
Now, just in case you are like many Canadians who have allowed themself to be lulled into a false sense of security, based on a lack of fraud enforcement in Canada and extraordinarly little media coverage attention to corporate fraud and a Canadian moral superiority complex, here is the Canadian content.
Please keep in mind that thanks to the absence of criminal enforcement in Canada, some of these cases should be classified as securities concerns and not allegations of fraud against any individuals. Based on the low level of media coverage, you may never have heard about these incidents – Barry Landen (here, Penna estate fraud, not huge, but very sad), Peter Sbaraglia and Robert Mander (here, accused by OSC of $40 million fraud), Milowe Brost and Gary Sorenson (here, Brost was jailed this year for forgery, but accused with Sorenson of a Ponzi scheme which could reach $400 million), Wolfgang Stolzenberg (here, accused of a $1 billion fraud in the Castors Holdings case), Ronald Weinberg, Hasanain Panju, and Lino Pasquale Matteo and John Xanthoudakis (here, facing 36 charges including fraud and publishing a false prospectus in the Cinar case, with Xanthoudakis also being part of Norshield (here, $215 million alleged fraud) and Matteo also part of Mount Real (here), Earl Jones (here, surrendered and pleaded guilty (so I don’t know how quick I would be to count that as a win for our justice system) to two fraud charges related to a $50 million Ponzi scheme that ran from 1982 to 2009), Ian Thow (here, originally accused of a $32 million Ponzi fraud but pleaded guilty on amounts totaling $8 million and sentenced to 9 years). There are many more, but I have run out of time, and hopefully opened a few eyes.
I have decided to avoid pure Canadian class actions securities claims due to the risk of suggesting fraud in any of these cases, and/or the risk of reprisal for any such inference. But I can assure you that we have had more than our share of securities related games played in Canada resulting in massive losses suffered by Canadian investors.
Now the risk management spin. There are many ways for investors, fund managers, investment advisors, directors and officers to protect yourself.
- If things are going absolutely great and you have no complaints or concerns about your current position: pull your head out of the sand and start your own investigation immediately. Take two, three, four hours, pull out a recent prospectus, annual report or one of those intentionally complicated sell sheets, and read the fine print, notes and management assumptions. If it does not make any sense, read it again. If it still doesn’t make any sense, start asking questions and preface each question with “pretend you are answering this question like I am your mother or your five year old” (keep in mind that some of the people above did actually defraud their mother);
- If a few things are bugging you but you can’t put your finger on it, see point 1 above.
- If you have not invested or accepted the board position, see the points above;
- Request evidence of Fidelity/Crime insurance. You can’t rely on this in place of the points above, but at least you will get some comfort that the company and the individuals have been vetted by a large financial institution who shares a financial exposure to the company. Then take the evidence of insurance, Google the name of the insurer, call the company from the info online, not the one on the evidence of insurance, and confirm the company and policy actually exist. This four minutes will be more due diligence than most stakeholders perform, and it will improve your comfort level with your risk;
- Repeat point 4 for Directors’ and Officers’ liability insurance (D&O) and Professional Liability insurance (E&O). Many, but not all, fraudsters avoid any additional audit, review or questions, (unfortunately they don’t seem to be subject to much of that from regulators, auditors, lawyers, suppliers or investors), so they reject any suggestion of insurance coverage as a waste of money;
- Find the references to a contract, sales agreement, independent third party review, or other “feel good statement” attributed to any third party in any company document, pick two (or if you are really diligent, three) and take four minutes to Google the name, call the company or person from the online information, and confirm the details of the pronouncement;
- Read the Ian Thow link above and the victim statements detailed in the sentencing decision, and be thankful they allowed their tragic and embarrassing stories to be publicized so that we can learn without having to suffer more loss that we already have (yes, every mutual fund holder, pensioner, bank client and insurance buyer pays a significant amount for fraud losses every year.) It could be the most valuable 20 minutes of your life.
With prosecutions being rare and convictions (without a guilty plea) being almost non-existent, one can only surmise the actual number for frauds that are currently being perpetrated in Canada.
So what is the direction of Canadian corporate (aka, white collar, or financial) fraud? It doesn’t matter, there is plenty of it right now to warrant concern and the 4 hours and 44 minutes of time suggested above.
Greg Shields is a D&O, Professional Liability and Crime insurance specialist and a Partner at the University and Dundas (Toronto) branch of Mitchell Sandham Insurance Services. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 416 862-5626, or Skype at risk.first. And more details of risk and loss control can be found on the Mitchell Sandham blog at https://mitchellsandham.wordpress.com/
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