Caracas - city on the brink

March 12, 2014 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

A year after Hugo Chavez died, two very different Caracas groups took to the streets. On March 5, 2014, the anniversary of the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Caracas was a deeply divided city. In neighborhoods like El 23 de Enero, a Chavista stronghold and the location of the Cuartel de Las Montañas, the leader’s final resting place, Chavez supporters gathered, decked out in red. They chanted support for their embattled president, Nicolas Maduro, and the Chavez legacy, both beloved by many of Venezuela’s poor whose lives were buoyed by Chavismo socialism.

Thousands turned out for a military parade in honor of the anniversary, as tanks, missiles and all manner of armed forces passed through the streets in a show of government strength. “Chavez lives! The struggle continues!” echoed through the Los Proceres promenade. “Nothing will destabilize this president,” said one woman, “because his power comes from the people.” For a single, surprising moment, some booing rang out as soldiers passed by, perhaps the only brief indication of the unrest brewing all over the country, and just a few miles east of the parade.

Recovering out of terms, stolen, hidden or mis-appropriated assets

March 10, 2014 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

TMG Corporate Services / The Mediator Group trace, sight, recover, store and repatriate / dispose of:

  • High value plant & machinery of all makes and dimensions;
  • Industrial equipment, installed equipment, equipment on location and operating in factory, industrial or marine environments;
  • Aircraft, helicopters and aviation ground services equipment;
  • Marine Recovery Services - recovery of vessels adrift, in dry dock, at port, at sea or hijacked;
  • Farm machinery and equine equipment;
  • Recovery of military / government equipment in high risk / conflict / marginal zones;
  • High value motor vehicles / prestige vehicles (cars);
  • High value / high performance motorbikes and specialist racing grade motorbikes;
  • Pleasure craft & trailers; caravans, motorhomes and family vehicles.

TMG Corporate Services / The Mediator Group offer clients a range of support services to facilitate asset location and recovery;

Managing risks globally for multi-nationals

February 19, 2014 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

TMG Corporate Services / The Mediator Group operate globally in managing risks for organizations and addressing unforeseen challenges that arise from time to time - especially in more marginal operating environments - sample engagements of this kind including tracking the unapproved movement of high value plant & machinery in West Africa; locating and repatriating the assets of an international engineering firm from multiple jurisdictions in Eastern Europe; repatriating the stranded assets of an international company from the conflict in Syria; locating misappropriated assets of an oil company in the delta region of Nigeria.

TMG Corporate Services have carried out complex assignments in Iraq, Egypt, Guinea Bissau, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Pakistan to secure stranded assets for multi-national organizations. These engagements typically also involve cases of fraud / theft, have cross-border elements and are supported by our specialized strategies to recover / secure assets including liaison with law enforcement and intelligence services where appropriate or requested.

The StAR-INTERPOL Asset Recovery Initiative

January 14, 2014 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

The Global Focal Point Platform was launched in January 2009 by INTERPOL together with the StAR Initiative to provide a global network of asset recovery expert practitioners, accessible through a secure database of contacts on anti-corruption and asset recovery. This initiative reflects two critical lessons learned from successful asset recovery cases: 1) the importance of early action and 2) the benefit of strengthening contact and trust between practitioners. The joint partnership between StAR and INTERPOL allows the pooling of expertise and resources to best help practitioners at the forefront of the asset recovery and asset confiscation processes. Barriers to Asset Recovery, released on June 21, 2011 by the World Bank Group and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR), advises policy makers on reforms that will enable the recovery of stolen assets.

Drawing on consultations with over 50 practitioners around the globe, the study identifies challenges to asset recovery, and recommends eight strategic actions and best practices for policy makers, legislators and practitioners. It is a powerful tool that will help policy makers design a comprehensive strategy for recovering the proceeds of corruption in their countries. The recovery of stolen assets raises a series of policy questions about how to use the returned funds to support development goals and how to keep the public informed. Success in managing returned assets builds confidence in public institutions and reinforces the rule of law.

Counter-surveillance & anti-surveillance

October 21, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

TMG Corporate Services / The Mediator Group offers a suite of services in anti-surveillance and counter-surveillance to private individuals, corporate clients and organisations (see below Important Note regarding Qualification). As expert providers of specialist and extreme surveillance services, TMG Corporate Services / The Mediator Group are well placed to advise clients on strategies for the detection and avoidance or mitigation of these activities.

Surveillance targets face a withering array of possible tools and tactics – that include physical and technical assets – deployed to gather information. Physical surveillance consisting of a composite mix of static, foot and mobile surveillance – using binoculars, scopes, night vision equipment, infrared cameras, laser trigger motion sensors and remote image transmission arrays – is the most “visible” form of surveillance. Technical surveillance involving the deployment and use of tracking devices, phone tapping, email interception, phone monitoring, microwave and infra red based listening devices, signal blockers and filters and software application deployment presents an alternative set of detection and avoidance challenges of increasing complexity.

OFAC, EAR & ITAR - Embargoed Countries, Entities and Persons

September 25, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

Certain organizations and individuals are subject to trade sanctions, embargoes, and other restrictions under US law. These restrictions apply to both domestic and foreign transactions. In addition, certain countries are subject to either comprehensive embargoes or targeted sanctions. Comprehensive embargoes prohibit virtually ALL exports/imports and other transactions without a license or other US Government authorization. Targeted sanctions are prohibitions on trade in specified goods, technologies, and services with specific organizations (including foreign governments) and persons.

Identity management in a crisis

September 16, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

TMG Corporate Services / The Mediator Group offers a suite of Identity Management and Reputation Management services to private individuals, corporate clients and organizations. The firm specialises in the application of tools and techniques to manage crisis PR events that result in the publication of negative commentary on clients. The firm does not offer services to develop a profile for clients.

The services on offer are reactive rather than proactive in nature. Drawing on skills in the search engine optimisation, electronic counter measures, ethical hacking and digital forensics domains TMG Corporate Services / The Mediator Group provides a rapid reaction identity and reputation management service in crisis situations. The objective is to isolate and control access to any negative content by driving the provider (in an online context) down search engine rankings, implementing a link building strategy for alternative positive information sources and by liaising with social media platforms to disable access to defamatory, inaccurate or inappropriate content.

Data breach rules in the EU get tougher

August 26, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

From the 25th August 2013 all telecommunications and internet service providers operating in the EU have 24 hours, from the moment of discovery, to report a data breach to the authorities. On the other hand and rather surprisingly there are no such rules in place in the United States and notification requirements are handled though a variety of state level laws many of which have entirely different approaches to reporting and the urgency required. Many don't enlist any deadline. They merely order breached organizations to notify victims or authorities within a reasonable timeframe. A few states require that notification happen no later than 45 days.

The problems with an expedited, 24-hour response according to sources, is a lack of understanding of the threat, the creation of undue alarm and, ultimately, shoddy reporting. Opinion in the United States generally view the 24 hour EU deadline as unnecessary and rather suggest that authorities be notified as soon as is reasonably practical but no later than 72 hours after the breach and that affected customers should be alerted shortly after.

Ex-Reuters investigator detained in Shanghai

August 18, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

A British investigator and his Chinese-American wife were detained in Shanghai, China in July 2013 and were formally arrested on August 16, 2013 according to the Shanghai police department. They have been accused of trading illegally in personal information about Chinese citizens. The recent announcement by Xinhua News Agency was the only official word on Peter Humphrey and Yu Yingzeng since they were detained in July. The pair run ChinaWhys, a private investigation firm based in the city.

According to sources it is alleged that reports prepared by their agency included information that infringed the privacy rights of Chinese citizens. ChinaWhys says its services for corporate clients include screening potential employees or business partners. The communist Beijing government operates an extensive surveillance network to track China's public, but is tightening controls on access to personal information by companies and individuals. Communist leaders were embarrassed last year by news reports that disclosed details about the family wealth of Xi Jinping, the new ruling party leader, and retiring premier Wen Jiabao. Earlier, several Chinese companies complained about investigations into their operations and finances that led to a fall in their share prices on foreign stock exchanges.

Press releasing our personal lives

August 14, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

Discretion is the better part of valour – meaning that it is better to be careful and think before you act than it is to be blindly brave and take unnecessary risks. In the age of social media it is an axiom that is considered less and less by the masses as they compete to post the most excruciatingly personal and intimate moments of their lives in order to produce a response - often not caring whether that response is positive or negative. Of course along side these sensational items are the billions of posts concerning the most mundane activities imaginable which is the "penance" apparently necessary before stumbling across content that makes the search worthwhile.

Obsession with the act of status updating, tweeting, instagramming and blogging is particularly prevalent with the under 25's who have grown up along side the technology and view it as an integral part of their social interactions with their peers and in increasingly more cases - blind strangers. "Social interaction" being a phrase used lightly as increasingly the use of these tools is reducing the actual amount of face-time people have with each other. "Perceived socialising" is the outcome of the over use of these platforms where the social skills of participants are eroded and the amount of time spent in public is reduced to zero while their "profile" on social media is sky high suggesting an extrovert of Kardashian proportions.

A look at PRISM, the NSAs surveillance program

August 09, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

The ability of the intelligence community in the United States to collect and investigate information on both foreign subjects and US citizens has dramatically increased since 9/11. PRISM is a programme of the US National Security Agency (NSA) to collect private electronic data belonging to users of major internet services like Gmail, Facebook, Outlook, and others. It’s the latest evolution of the US government’s post-9/11 electronic surveillance efforts, which began under President Bush with the Patriot Act, and expanded to include the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) enacted in 2006 and 2007. PRISM allows the NSA to request data on specific people from major technology companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and others.

The US government insists that it is only allowed to collect data when given permission by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Some reports stated that the NSA had “direct access” to the servers of Google, Facebook, and others. The implicated companies have denied knowledge of and participation in PRISM, and have rejected allegations that the US government is able to directly tap into their users' data. Both the companies and the government insist that data is only collected with court approval and for specific targets.

"Curtilage" in the context of machinery repossessions

July 30, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

The term "curtilage" is a legal term which delineates the land immediately surrounding a house, including any closely associated buildings and structures, but excluding any associated open fields beyond. It delineates the boundary within which a home owner can have a reasonable expectation of privacy and where "intimate home activities" take place.

It is an important legal concept in certain jurisdictions for the understanding of search and seizure, of real property, burglary, trespass, and land use planning. In urban properties, the location of the curtilage may be evident from the position of fences, wall and similar; within larger properties it may be a matter of some legal debate as to where the private area ends and the 'open fields' start.

The consistent application of the law with respect to weapons

July 21, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

The consistent application of the law with respect to weaponry and firearms and the production and use of same by unlicensed private citizens during an incident appears to vary depending on location. Observing recent incidents it would appear that the possession of unlicensed, whether improvised or conventional, weaponry and/or firearms attracts different penalties and interventions by law enforcement depending on the location of the perpetrator.

By location the author is referring to the urban or rural context. In the rural context although the possession in a vehicle of a pick ax handle, hatchet, lump hammer or other "work tool" may be more easily explained than the presence of same in a built up urban area - the context, placement and potential threat of the presence of these implements must also always be considered.

Investigators can access your bank data says SOCA chief

July 16, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) head Trevor Pearce recently claimed to MPs that private investigators could possibly lawfully obtain details of peoples’ bank accounts. The Information Commissioners offices are surprised that such a senior law enforcement official could make such claims which are clearly not correct. The acting Director General of SOCA made the claims in a briefing document and said that there were “limited circumstances” where a private investigator could apply to “data controllers” such as banks for sensitive information on members of the public. It is thought that Mr Pearce may have been referring to third-party requests to institutions such as banks under Section 29 of the Data Protection Act. In actuality no private investigator has ever been successful in accessing such data using that method without obtaining prior consent from the data subject.

A senior source at the Office of the Information Commissioner, the Government regulator that enforces laws on data protection said that a snowball stands a better chance in hell than a PI does of getting information like that out of a bank. A SOCA spokesman said: “Mr Pearce did not state, nor seek to imply, that large amounts of personal financial information is available systematically to PIs and stressed that scope for PIs to use the Data Protection Act exemptions is limited. However, law enforcement must consider that financial information which can be accessed by open-source researchers is available.”

Debt Book Asset Recovery Planning & Administration

July 05, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

Regardless of location TMG Corporate Services have a market leading record of locating and recovering end of lease, out of terms, stolen, hidden or mis-appropriated assets to their owners. TMG Corporate Services / The Mediator Group offer the complete range of standard services as outlined above and also act for clients in the specialist areas of:

  • Debt book work outs, risk analysis, cost benefit analysis and valuations;
  • Debt book purchase Return on Investment assessments and due diligence;
  • Pre-liquidation & insolvency related information gathering including asset value estimates & recovery cost analysis;
  • Insolvency related asset identification and recovery analysis;
  • Toxic debt asset recovery for high ticket assets;
  • Contested repossessions / hidden asset recovery / confrontational recovery environments;
  • Recovery of stranded and/or misappropriated assets;
  • High risk operational environments and conflict zones;

TMG Corporate Services / The Mediator Group plans and executes all assignments following the operating procedures outlined below as required:

  • Surveillance & Preparation (only required for high value plant and machinery / complex assignments with an international element and where multiple items are being acquired for a single client from the same debtor);
  • Site Visits / Asset Sighting to include photographic evidence & valuations (typically as part of the legal process / repossession proceedings);
  • Recovery & Storage (standard option suitable for most clients);
  • Disposal or Repatriation of Stranded Assets (as applicable based on the terms of reference received from the client).

Asset Recovery Classes & Services to Corporates & Government

July 03, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

TMG Corporate Services / The Mediator Group trace, sight, recover, store and dispose of:

  • High value motor vehicles / prestige vehicles (cars);
  • High value / high performance motorbikes and specialist racing grade motorbikes;
  • Pleasure craft & trailers; caravans, motorhomes and family vehicles.
  • High value plant & machinery of all makes and dimensions;
  • Industrial equipment, installed equipment, equipment on location and operating in factory / industrial environments;
  • Aircraft, helicopters and aviation ground services equipment;
  • Farm machinery and equine equipment;
  • Recovery of military / government equipment in high risk / conflict / marginal zones;

TMG Corporate Services / The Mediator Group offer clients a range of support services to facilitate asset location and recovery;

  • Specialist lifting and power assisted cutting equipment;
  • Engineers, Mechanics, Fitters, Locksmiths, Welders, Drivers, Close Protection Security and Support Staff including planning, administration and public relations;
  • Oversized / outsized asset transportation including permit applications and liaison with local government in all EU jurisdictions;
  • Guarded convoys and escorts;
  • Sea freight charter service;
  • Real time always on communications and reporting from the field.

Tracing debtors internationally is highly specialised

June 08, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

Tracing absconders across the globe is a highly specialised skill that requires high levels of expertise and a sophisticated network of digital and physical assets. These assets are required in order to also manage the cost to the client of tracing debtors who have left the country where a debt was generated. Without a sophisticated approach to debtor tracing most tracing agents will either fail to trace the subject for the client due to prohibitive cost issues or will quote the client an unrealistic fee in relation to the debt being pursued.

Specialist techniques involving publicly accessible information, social networks, data mining, pattern analysis and heuristics allow the desktop research element of global debtor tracing to acquire qualified leads to focus the effort of field agents and thus manage cost. This is only the first part of the process however. In order to drive a case to a successful and cost effective conclusion then field work is required and often demanded by most courts in most jurisdictions. Less than 10% of global debtor trace cases are resolved through desktop research or via telephone contact.

Avoiding Identity Theft - Vigilance is Key

June 06, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

Identity theft can occur in many different ways but always results in someone else assuming your identity for the purposes of performing a fraud or to commit a criminal act while deflecting attention from their true identity. Criminals and criminal organisations can acquire information to assume your identity from a variety of sources. In the simplest form the relatively simply act of of stealing your wallet can be the starting point. Individuals may also search through your trash to acquire leads or gain a foot hold that will allow the act of identity theft to be initiated. Other organisations will make a concerted effort to compromise your credit or bank information by phishing scams or spam emails. They may also approach you in person, on the telephone or in many forms on the Internet and simply ask you for your  information. There are so many sources of information about people in the modern world and the locations of this data are so numerous that it is virtually impossible to prevent the theft of your identity in many cases. However you can minimize the risk and mitigate the losses that result by following a few simple rules.

Never throw away ATM receipts, credit statements, credit cards, or bank statements in a usable form - always burn, shred or put beyond use all sources of this type of information. Never give credit card number over the telephone unless you make the call and unless you are making the call to a known and trusted source. When reconciling bank statements then do so monthly and always notify your bank of any discrepancies identified immediately. Keep a list of telephone numbers to call to report the loss or theft of your wallet, credit cards and any other valuable contents of your wallet and do so immediately you detect the theft.

Repossessing plant and machinery in marginal locations

June 05, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

Jurisdictions vary wildly with respect to the protection afforded to creditors when they seek to enforce their rights regarding missing, mis-appropriated or overheld plant and machinery assets. Normally if the original lease or loan agreement was executed in the jurisdiction in which the repossession is sought or the asset resides then the challenges faced are less acute - but not always. The difficulties arise in particular when the asset has been moved out of the original jurisdiction of purchase. In cases where this has been done without the permission or knowledge of the asset owner the repossession firm in some cases can enlist the support of local police authorities or law enforcement but only if the original owner has reported the matter as a theft or has been granted a local court order that compels action by the local authorities.

A common misconception is that the law enforcement community are obliged to assist in cases where this is not the case. It is normally their concern to ensure that trespass by the repossession agent on private property does not occur during the attempt to repossess assets, that no damage is done to private property when trying to gain access to machinery that has been positively identified or to assess claims by debtors that methods have been used which are unfair or even threatening. The last accusation by debtors when repossession of the plant and machinery is imminent is used often times to avoid this inevitability and can result in an instruction by law enforcement that the matter is civil in nature and until the local courts make an assessment on the claims of the debtor that repossession cannot occur. These directions from local police authorities must be adhered to.

The Changing Role of Investigators

May 28, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

Investigative methods when collecting evidence from social media vary substantially from traditional digital forensic techniques creating new legal and procedural challenges. Mobile devices and texting, free communication and file sharing solutions and social networks make it easier than ever for people to share information and express opinions. As the digital world evolves, so must the way investigations are conducted. Sources of evidence are growing rapidly. Collecting and authenticating evidence during a digital investigation can prove to be a difficult task. For those with a clear understanding of how to leverage advances in technology and the wealth of information available online, the evidence collected during these investigations can help create a solid case. Investigations involving social networks are a very new topic. With new applications, links, techniques, and roadblocks discovered daily, social networks are rapidly progressing. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are just a part of the landscape. There are also many new social networks like Google Plus, Quora, Instagram, Groupon, Pinterest, and Foursquare; as well as thousands of blogs and special interest forums that exist.

With this wealth of information there are also many new issues which are different from what investigators have dealt with in traditional digital forensics. Previously, digital evidence was extracted from a piece of hardware in the possession of the investigator, such as a computer hard drive or the flash memory on a smartphone. The terms and conditions for dealing with this technology were understood by investigators. If someone challenged how investigators did their work, a third party could easily corroborate the findings by reviewing the same hard drive. That is not the case with social media.