J. J. Baloch
With the innovations in crime culture and industry in the 21st century, the criminologists and crime scientists have invented new scientific ways of detecting, tracing, tracking, and solving the most complicated and undiscernible crimes in the modern globalised world. Forensic accounting is one of the many new scientific ways to make the biopsy of crime, the most importantly white collar that hardly leaves any crime scene behind in the literal sense. It is high time for Pakistan to embrace this trend and to equip its law enforcement mechanism with forensic accounting skills for better results in dealing with new money-related while collar crimes.
Today, white collar crime is more sophisticated and devastating than it was ever before. In recent years, the complicated nature of current racketeering and graft regimes has driven the growth of forensic accounting worldwide. Though a niche field, the forensic accounting is considered as an inevitable part of criminal investigations, criminal justice process and also civil litigations. Forensic accounting has become core, popular and necessary skill especially to deal with the white collar crimes like money laundering, terrorist financing, embezzlement of funds and tax evasions etc.
In Pakistan, we faced a lot of criticism while dealing with some high profile cases such as Axact Case, Benazir Bhutto Murder Case, and Panama Scam to name a few. We have not been able to take the services of forensic accountants in these cases. Honestly, speaking we don’t have single qualified or certified forensic accountant in our police and law enforcement departments. Therefore, many areas of vital importance to ensure justice to all parties involved in these cases remain unaddressed properly. However, the magnitude of corruption and tax evasion cases goes high every other day in Pakistan.
What’s to come in future is unmistakably splendid for forensic accounting. Some surveys and studies anticipate an incredible 25% increase in demand for forensic accountants in recent years. Changes in regulatory enforcement are expected to spur even more positions for forensic expertise. According to research in the domain of investigations of white collar and transnational organised crimes, an accomplished or certified forensic accountant should be curious, creative, persistent, communicative, articulate, cogent, analytic, discrete, searching and attentive to details in additions to have the necessary skills of accounting and law.
Forensic accounting is an exciting and rewarding field that allows professionals to use their accounting knowledge and investigative skills to catch criminals, settle lawsuits, and reduce the risk of large-scale fraud. Success in forensic accounting often requires a wealth of experience beyond those traditional, entry-level accounting roles. We need to prepare modules for forensic accounting in our law enforcement academies like the National Police Academy, and FIA, NAB, ANF Academies, throughout Pakistan. However, very recently FIA Academy invited experts from the United States and European counties in liaison with ICITAP to conduct one week course on forensic accounting here in Islamabad and people from different agencies including NAB and ANF and regular police participated, and we got excellent feedback both from the trainees as well as trainers.
There are a plethora of reasons as to why we the law enforcement and investigation agencies in Pakistan should inexorably focus on this nascent but very remarkable field of forensic accounting. First, guaranteeing the fair play in investigations is the noblest of all professional duties of a law officer. However, the ideal of fairness remains unrealisable without required expertise that the knowledge of forensic accounting fulfils in a befitting manner. The high profile graft cases require specialised attention on the part of both the investigators as well as the prosecutors. Deciphering complications and ensuring transparency through professional excellence in forensics is something beyond the domain of traditional investigation techniques. The investigative methods, like this, call for innovation in crime-solving approaches.
Second, more substantial crime investigations demand investigators to reflect high ethical and professional standards in tracing complex money trails which sometimes involve trans-jurisdictions, quite unexperienced by our investigation officers through conventional methods. Many judgements by our superior courts in Pakistan on corruption and embezzlement of public funds have time and again identified this vital component of police and law enforcement investigations as the grey area or a significant vulnerability which serves nothing other than offering an easy exit door to the accused persons for going scot free. The phenomenon called the lack of evidence, so caused, has rendered our criminal justice system unuseful and unproductive in achieving its mandated goals any longer. This state of inefficiency calls for a serious revisiting of the entire process as well as the mechanism of investigation or evidence collection in Pakistan.
The actual problem lies not in the lack of evidence but rather in the lack of investigative skill in our staff to trace the evidence using modern scientific techniques. For proper prosecution and adjudication of the cases of high national importance, we direly need sophistication in our way to investigate the crime. The proposition that “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence” sits well in the context of Pakistan’s criminal justice landscape.
However, Forensic Accountants can play a very instrumental role in Prevention and Risk Management. For example, corporate entities and government agencies are increasingly turning to forensic accounting experts for assistance with preventive measures, designed to keep fraud and the associated expense of the investigation or litigation process to a minimum. It is so perhaps because the forensic accountants can conduct an internal audit to uncover potential pitfalls and suggest early steps to prevent fraud. Additionally, in the corporate environment, forensic accountants can also monitor compliance with emerging regulations.
Above all, in order to ensure the transparency and meritocracy in our criminal justice system, it is of prime importance for law enforcement and investigative agencies such as Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), National Accountability Bureau (NAB), and other anti-corruption bodies both on federal and provincial levels in Pakistan to hire and to recruit forensic accountants. And we should also offer them handsome pay packages so their performance could improve. Two essential elements are eating into the vitals of our law enforcement establishments and organisations; these include imbalances between the volume of work and availability of required manpower or resources and also disequilibrium between the nature of the crime and the available investigative or law-enforcement capacities of our police and other civil law enforcement syndicates.
In this connection, it is important to remind that not only recruitments will do but in addition to that training of our available staff will also go a long way in contributing towards the capacity building of our present staff and officials. However, the training in sophisticated crime investigations is very costly and requires funds and other resources such as trainers and state of the art training facilities. Looking into our kitty we cannot be overambitious but realistically speaking we have many donors around us, both nationally as well as internationally, if we make them believe that their money will be spent transparently and fairly on achieving the pious goals of justice and peace, they will be more than happy to contribute.
This area of investigative skills is stepping ahead of what we have been struggling with during the last two decades. We have established some of the forensic labs in Punjab particularly which is indeed a commendable step in a right direction and which needs to be expanded in every police department with the same level of expertise. However, these labs both hitherto established and yet to be established hardly address the challenge of forensic accountancy, a skill which our investigation team managing crime scenes and huge data analysis should have for tracing and solving the most complicated white-collar and transnational organised crimes such as money laundering, terrorist financing and trafficking in persons.
All this needs leadership, vision, trust, credibility and will to garner the support of international organisations to innovate and reform our rustic law enforcement mechanism for rising equal to the magnitude of the challenge of crime and terrorism in the turbulent times we are living right at the moment in Pakistan.
The writer is the author of many books and “Whiter than White”, English Novel and a senior police officer at Police Service of Pakistan. He tweets @Baloch_JJ