In November 2021 MarketWatch featured Matrix Intelligence's Stuart Mc Donald MC who discussed the challenges of asset tracing and the benefits of engaging an intelligence agency to assist.

Asset tracing, put simply, is the process by which investigators conduct enquiries to establish a subject’s wealth, their assets and where and how they are held. It is typically conducted in support of litigation or insolvency proceedings and excepting the most basic of cases, it is a complex, time consuming and expensive undertaking; not to mention frustrating. That is not to say asset tracing is a dark art, or unachievable, however; if an individual wishes to hide their assets, then tracing them becomes a costly and sometimes prohibitive exercise.

How do people hide their assets?

There are various means which individuals employ to put wealth beyond the reach of the courts, creditors, or tax authorities, including: using associates or friends to hold assets on their behalf, spreading their wealth amongst multiple asset classes, incl. cash, moveable assets (vehicles, art, jewellery, yachts, planes etc.) real estate, equities and cryptocurrencies, and the use the shell companies and offshore jurisdictions. Read more about hiding assets here.

Offshore Jurisdictions

The use of offshore jurisdictions features in most complex investigations, due to their opacity and inappropriately high level of client confidentiality; enabling people to operate within them with relative impunity. In sophisticated cases, individuals employ complex mechanisms, spanning several countries, with a chain of intermediaries and a network of shell companies, offshore structures, and nominee arrangements to and hide their identity as ultimate beneficial owners and mask their activities.

What tools are employed to trace assets?

Broadly speaking, the main protocols for gathering information are Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) and Human Intelligence (HUMINT).

OSINT is a precursor to any investigation, and this entails the collection and collation of intelligence from public domain resources, including proprietary databases and public records to find court pleadings, exhibits, and bankruptcy filings that may contain relative information or provide alternate leads. This can in itself occasionally identify assets, however; its utility is more as an information gathering protocol to inform a wider investigative strategy. OSINT also has limitations, as its use entails navigation of data protection laws and jurisdiction specific legislation and the accuracy of data varies from one jurisdiction to the next, especially when working in the context of failed states.

OSINT searches are supplemented with online and local media enquiries and social media to enhance the profiles of the individual/s involved. The latter being particularly useful for gaining an insight into the individual’s lifestyle and the jurisdictions which they frequent.

A more reliable and generally successful means of gathering intelligence to support an asset trace, is HUMINT, which, as the name suggest, is the collection of information from people. Not all intelligence agencies can deliver this, as networks typically take years to establish, with sources having to evidence the validity of their information before they can be regarded as a ‘trusted source’.

HUMINT can be used in a variety of ways, including discreet local enquiries around the targets home address, their office, or where their colleagues and staff socialise. Using a suitable pretext and the aim is to gather as much information about a Subject as possible, without making the person you are talking to aware of your intent. The major pitfall of this approach is that people can lie to ingratiate themselves to someone.

Why engage an intelligence firm?

The benefit of engaging an intelligence firm, is that you are buying their expertise and know-how.

At Matrix Intelligence, we have extensive experience of asset tracing and the conduct of multi-jurisdictional and cross border complex investigations. We also understand the difference between intelligence and evidence required for use in a Court of Law. Prior to accepting any instruction, we always conduct a preliminary investigation, at no cost to the client. Not only does this enable us to prepare a properly phased and costed proposal, but it also allows the client to see how their funds will be spent and enables us to manage their expectations of an investigation delivering the desired outcome. This is crucial, as any investigation must be costed proportionate to the matter in hand and there is no efficacy in commissioning action if the assets recoverable are less than the total cost of the investigation (including legal fees, litigation funding, recovery costs etc.).

We operate globally, but specialise in the UK, Europe (especially Eastern Europe), the Middle East, North, East and West Africa, Asia, North America, and most well-known offshore jurisdictions.

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