The Fraud Examiner
Saints or Sinners? Whistleblowers’ Difficult Position in the Asia-Pacific Region
Whistleblowers can be divisive characters. Celebrated by some as heroes and denounced by others as snitches, few other elements that come up during a fraud investigation can spark such polarizing labels. During her session at the 2016 ACFE Fraud Conference Asia-Pacific, Jessica Sidhu, CFE, Llb, explored the precarious position whistleblowers are in. “Is a whistleblower a good person or a bad person? Is he a traitor or is he a patriot?” she asked the audience. “Only when you’ve answered this question will you be able to take a whistleblower seriously.”
The topic was especially pertinent to discuss during the conference in Singapore, as the government of neighboring Malaysia has been involved for a few years with the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal. Global investigators believe that millions of dollars from the state investment fund 1MDB entered Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's personal bank accounts.
Sidhu herself was formerly head of administration and finance at the Malaysian Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) and was involved with a special task force investigating various financial cases, including a probe into 1MDB. She was reportedly fired “suddenly” in late 2015 and had her permanent residency revoked by the Immigration Department of Malaysia.
During her remarks at the conference, Sidhu discussed Andre Xavier Justo, a former PetroSaudi International executive who is believed to be the main whistleblower in the 1MDB case. He allegedly leaked documents to independent media site Sarawak Report, which established a link between Prime Minister Najib and the missing funds from 1MDB. Justo is currently in jail but is expected to be pardoned at the end of 2016.
Sidhu explored the challenges that whistleblowers face from the very first decision they make: whether to tell someone what they know or suspect. She said, “Sixty-five percent of whistleblowers are insiders and eighty percent of them have approached [their bosses or oversight bodies] internally, but were rejected or turned back.”
It is common for even the most well-intentioned investigators to ignore or discount the reports of whistleblowers for a variety of reasons. Sidhu described a situation her team experienced where one male employee made multiple reports against a female coworker for suspected fraud. Each report was investigated; however they were unable to find any evidence to back up his claims until the tenth report.
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