International Asset Searches

Because we routinely perform searches for banks, stocks and real property inside the United States, we are frequently asked how difficult it is to perform the same type of searches outside of the United States.

And the answer to that question is a very qualified, "Well, it all depends."

And of, course, the second most frequently asked question is, "How much does it cost?"

And again, the answer is a very qualified, "Well it all depends.

First and foremost, it depends upon the country involved. Some countries have or enforce very strong banking regulations and laws relating to privacy or have policies and statutes that allow for the creation of financial vehicles that can greatly increase the difficulty of locating bank accounts. Panama, for example, allows for "Bearer Bond Corporations" in which the name(s) of the owners of the corporation does not have to be in public records but is actually vested in whoever has physical possession of the bonds. Couple that little oddity with the ability of such corporations to obtain anonymous credit and debit cards issued in the name of the corporation alone and things get even more difficult. What you have is a credit or debit card that can be used by anyone, in the name of a corporation whose ownership is not listed anywhere but is determined by who physically holds the shares! That can make tracing the source of funds very difficult indeed.

When working in certain countries, the issue of "baksheesh" frequently comes up. Originally Arabic word that means "tip", it has become the catchall phrase for monies that are paid to public officials to "to facilitate a transaction". How's that for a nice euphemistic phrase?

In the case of a Venezuelan Insurance Company seeking to recover money that had been stolen and secreted in bank accounts in Sri Lanka, the baksheesh was considerable. However, it also facilitated the recovery of almost US$ 4 million.

Of legitimate concern to our domestic clients, is whether or not the payment of "baksheesh" might run afoul of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA make it unlawful for a U.S. person, and certain foreign issuers of securities, to make a corrupt payment to a foreign official for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person. Since 1998, they also apply to foreign firms and persons who take any act in furtherance of such a corrupt payment while in the United States.

In the instance where we are paying "fees" to facilitate access to financial information in order to help satisfy a judgment originally obtained in the United States against the subject of our inquiry, the intent of the payment is clearly not to obtain or retain business for or on behalf of anyone. So, payment of "baksheesh" for that purpose does not run afoul of the FCPA.

Back to the question of whether or not we can help clients find assets held in foreign countries, here's what we say after we say, "Well, it all depends." We ask our clients to tell us as much about the case as they can. We then generally contact an associate in the country in question (we have a large network of associates from around the world) and try to determine how much information a search in the country in question would be likely to provide and how much it would cost. We then prepare a short proposal for our clients so they can decide if the expense is worth it. In the case mentioned above where a client of ours was owed millions of dollars in a fraud case, it was worth spending quite a bit for us to search for funds. In other cases, the amount owed versus the cost of the search for funds and the degree of difficulty attaching funds once they are located has to be carefully weighed.

We are living in a global economy now. More and more business is being conducted not just across state lines but throughout the world. Although that leads to greater income for our clients, sometimes it also leads to situations where asset searches are necessary. If that happens to your business or a business you represent, please don't hesitate to call us. It won't cost you a thing to find out what is possible.

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