Tamsyn Parker

Tamsyn Parker is the NZ Herald Assistant Business Editor

Whistleblower reward scheme possible

Harry Markopolos uncovered evidence which proved Bernard Madoff was running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. Photo / AP
Harry Markopolos uncovered evidence which proved Bernard Madoff was running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. Photo / AP

New Zealand is considering a system which would pay whistleblowers to come forward with fraud-related tips.

Serious Fraud Office acting chief executive Simon McArley said a reward scheme had been discussed between the government departments.

"It's at an early policy state. But there have been some discussions."

Bernie Madoff whistleblower Harry Markopolos, who is in town as part of an international economic crime conference, said a reward system for tips set up in America since global financial crisis was prompting more people to come forward.

Markopolos said it received seven to eight complaints per day through the tip-off scheme and past experience showed around 20 per cent turned into something more serious.

The American Congress had approved US$452 million for the tip-off fund but so far only US$50,000 had been paid out.

Markopolos said the whistleblower system helped fraud investigators get hold of "smoking gun" emails and saved scarce government resources.

Markopolos said ponzi-operators tended to be off the radar - they did not register with the authorities and the authorities often only found out about them when investors rang them to say they had not been paid their money.

But other countries have not gone down the reward route. The United Kingdom does not have a reward scheme and neither does Europe.

Giovanni Kessler, director general of the European Antifraud Office, said the focus was more on protecting the whistle-blower so they did not suffer any retaliation.

"For a whistle-blower the existence of a reward is not the main issue - the point is to be protected in their career."

McArley said he would be open to anything that encouraged people to come forward with information.

McArley is hoping Markopolos' visit to New Zealand will help New Zealanders to identify future financial rip-offs.

Markopolos will speak at a public seminar today ahead of a two-day private conference of leaders from economic crime agencies from around the world.

Markopolos, a quantitative financial specialist, began to get suspicious about the Madoff scheme nine years before it imploded after his boss asked him to create an investment product with similar returns.

The scheme fell apart in 2008 and Madoff was convicted and given a 150-year sentence in 2009.

McArley said that in the past two years the Serious Fraud Office had dealt with six actual or alleged Ponzi schemes with total losses likely to be more than $500 million.

"The presentation from Harry Markopolos is timely given the recent conviction in the B'On case and the suspicions around Ross Asset Management."

B'On principal Jacqui Bradley was last year found guilty of 75 fraud-related charges involving the loss of $15.5 million. Ross Asset Management collapsed before Christmas and is now being investigated.

McArley said New Zealanders could learn a lot from Markopolos.

"Hopefully we can learn the lessons from him that will enable the SFO to continue its drive towards prevention and early intervention and thereby minimise the impact of such frauds on people and the economy."

ADVICE TO INVESTORS

*look out for returns that are too good to be true

*no separation of the investment manager and the money is cause for concern

*double check your investment statements

*make sure the assets that were bought or sold on your behalf were done at the listed price for that day

- NZ Herald

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