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Secrets of a Professional Money-Tracker


If Indonesia is really serious about going after the Suharto family's wealth, here's how to proceed. The first mistake investigators make in a case like this is to pore over accounts and ledgers at the expense of reality. The cardinal rule is never to believe in the integrity of any document until it has been independently verified. This is especially true when dealing with powerful, long-serving leaders who have had entire governments at their disposal to cover their tracks.

The first phase is to develop a strategy. We work with a small government team to establish the priorities and scope. Security has to be very tight. The quarry never stops moving assets or changing companies, domiciles and banks. In the second phase, investigators begin collecting and analyzing available information. A team of investigators and forensic accountants pores over tax and bank records and identifies corporations, trusts and nominee companies that can be pried apart. The goal is to find real, recoverable assets and to develop leverage over individuals and institutions involved in concealing them. The early seizure of cash and property can provide start-up or working capital to continue the hunt.

The third phase is to identify individuals--everyone from drivers to lawyers to business partners--who have been intimately involved with the target, his family and his cronies. Searching phone bills, faxes and computer records--nothing is ever really erased--can determine a core list of those people who might want to talk. Officials of other nations should be approached to help on a government-to-government basis to break local bank-secrecy provisions. In the case of Kroll's search for the wealth of Saddam Hussein, the big break came when we knocked on the door of his lawyer in Switzerland. That led to France, where Saddam held billions of dollars in shares in a media firm.

The last phase is to begin a series of liquidations, civil actions and leveraged discussions to pry open the secrets. There is a simple axiom: follow the money, and everything will come. Where crimes have been committed by accountants or lawyers acting on behalf of the target, then formal reports will be packaged and delivered to the proper authorities. Such packages will also be served on associations of accountants and lawyers. This makes other corrupt professionals more likely to cooperate.

In a case like that of the Suharto family, the search could last from one to two years. We'd recommend a team of five investigators, five case managers, 15 to 20 accountants, five lawyers and a global field team of 100 others to call on as needed. We would use intelligence analysts' software, an encryption cracking kit, a computer memory recovery kit and a forensic laboratory. However, the key asset will be the Indonesian people, at home and abroad. If they seek it, it can be found.

Stephen Vickers is executive managing director in Asia for Kroll Associates, which has traced the assets of Haiti's Jean-Claude Duvalier, the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos and other autocrats

Rich Despots: Where Does Suharto Rank In History?

Philippines' dictator Ferdinand Marcos, ousted in 1986, stole up to $10 billion

Ethiopia's Haile Selassie, ousted in 1974, had stockpiled $2 billion

Though the fortune has dwindled, Suharto & Co. still sit on $15 billion

Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko piggy-banked $5 billion before his overthrow in 1997

When he fell from power in 1986, Haiti's Jean-Claude Duvalier made off with $500 million


May 24, 1999

Suharto Inc.: All in the Family
Indonesian officials say they can't find evidence of ill-gotten wealth. But a four-month TIME investigation reveals that the former President and his children now have assets worth $15 billion, including fancy homes, jewelry, fine art and private jets

A Talent for Business
Cash and assets acquired by the family over 30 years

"I Never Asked"
The Attorney General has few answers

A man on a mission to track the loot

Money Trail
A top sleuth lays out a battle plan

Jeffrey Winters on stealing big

"Not One Cent Abroad"
Suharto's lawyers respond

Flawed Legacy
Author Pramoedya Ananta Toer says that Suharto's sins run much deeper than greed

This edition's table of contents | TIME Asia home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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