International Investigations: A Third World Perspective

August 4, 2016

The difference in investigation procedures undertaken in the First and Third World

Welcome to our first blog post. We’ve taken this section originally meant only for industry news, but to include articles, stories, insights and so on on the work we do as international investigators, based in the Philippines. In this article, we explain the differences between investigations in a First World country, as opposed to those taken in a Third World country. And, there are differences, as you will discover in this post.

One of the biggest mistakes some commercial investigators make in the Western World when supervising international investigations is not understanding and/or pre-briefing their clients on how much more complex Third World international investigations can be, than investigations in the West.

The differences range from what information is available, how it is sourced, the time required to obtain it, the “blockers” involved, all of which affect the fee structure of international investigators.  And those “blockers” can range from simple cultural differences; the fact that most information within Third World government agencies may not be available electronically and resulting in laborious hand searches; significant bureaucracy; apathy and a lack of professionalism and at times, even corruption; most related to the minimum wages both government and private workers make in the Third World.

most information within Third World government agencies may not be available electronically and resulting in laborious hand searches.
Difficulties encountered in Third World countries in conducting investigations includes sourcing information requires the use of “shoe leather express”.

In the United States for instance, much information can be obtained from government agencies electronically, to include information sufficient for some lower levels of background investigations. There are some specialist investigative companies that do all their business electronically, in support of more standard investigative companies.

For instance, one may be able to electronically conduct a lower level background investigation for under $250 in the U.S.  So investigators who are unfamiliar with similar investigations overseas, are shocked that they may be charged upwards to $1,800, plus out of pocket disbursements, for the same investigation in a Third World country.

They don’t realize that most of the time, the international investigator must take the old “shoe leather express” from agency to agency, in a situation where distance is not computed in miles or kilometers; but instead, in increments of time.  And an international investigator bills out in time increments, just like in the Western World, unless a project fee basis is agreed upon in advance.

While “sources” may already be developed in some of the government agencies involved, they will generally not have been developed in all, or even most.  The international investigator faces a lower level of professionalism, a higher level of bureaucracy and even apathy and occasionally corruption issues to circumvent, in accessing what often times is supposed to be from open source, government agencies.

He or she may have to cultivate someone to assist, or at least work through initial and required cultural nuances before they can get down to the matter at hand.  When a request for the desired information is made, often times the “source” or government employee can’t get to it right then, and asks the investigators to return at a future time, resulting in more time required to complete this particular lead.

We must also consider that many Third World government agency records, such as criminal records, are not generally as thorough or accurate as they would be in the Western World. For instance, Subject’s name may be on file within a national, government criminal records data base, often times lacking a middle name or initial, or even a birthdate. So when the international investigator conducts a routine check to determine if a criminal record exists, there may be ten or more cases on file for individuals with the same first and last name, but no middle name or even initial indicated. So then the investigator has to review all the background information the U.S. based investigator has provided them, in an attempt to discard those names on file that are too young or too old to be the person of interest, and try to further define potentials by the area where the crime occurred, compared to Subject’s former area of birth or residence.

And, even if you can get down to one possible “hit”, then you still need to visit the trial court involved to see if you can match your Subject to the person on record through more accurate case file records within the specific court. And even if you do find the right person in the national indices, often times it may only state the case number, type of crime and a disposition or current status. Most of the time, the facts and circumstances of the crime will not be in this file, so the investigator would have to visit the specific court to review the record. The Philippines, for instance, is made up of over 7,000 islands and the varied courts are spread far and wide. All of this adds to the time involved to run a lead.

And, whether the international investigator gets a “hit” on a record could depend upon whether a Subject has expunged his record from the electronic files to be searched. Some Third World countries do have such information on electronic file; but the hard copy may be closely guarded or secured. So someone wanting to expunge his criminal record from the indices would do so in almost all cases in the electronic file which is much easier to alter through bribery.

So when you consider directing an international investigator to check if a given Subject has a criminal record, ask which agencies he is checking with and whether his checks are against electronic records or hard copies. Many reputable international investigators may not even have access to the more secure hard copy records, versus the electronic files.

Consider that there are many “electronic” background investigative companies, based in the Western World that purport to be able to conduct a criminal records check for instance, in numerous of the Third World countries usually at “bargain basement” prices. The thing ask is: Are the hard copy records checked by that “independent” freelance subcontractor that supports them in whatever Third World country is involved?

And, it is doubtful if some of those Western World based “electronic” investigative background companies have conducted any significant degree of due diligence on those overseas independent “freelance” investigators that support them from the Third World. Most reputable Third World investigative companies that are registered and licensed with their respective governments, operate out of a registered office. They pay their employees the minimum wage and benefits in the country concerned, etc.. And, you can expect at least some degree of recourse from them if a problem develops. These companies can’t really afford to conduct a criminal records check for “bargain basement” pricing. They have a business to run, and employees to pay, just as you do in the Western World.

We will continue this study on International Investigations soon in a future post.

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