BY PETROS MAVROS
The work of Private Investigators has always been short on glamour and long on moral ambiguity, and few, if any modern-day PIs adhere so fastidiously to fictional detective Phillip Marlowe’s work ethic, one that was based on integrity and honesty, a man who could not be bribed and was willing to work for a mere $25-a-day-plus-expenses.
These days, any aspiring Sam Spade requires a different moral compass, as well as a great deal more tools in his ‘Detecting’ arsenal than camera, tape recorder, binoculars, plus endless patience in order to run his quarry to ground. Old fashioned ‘boy scout’ craft work has since been replaced by a new breed of ‘Google Gumshoe’ operatives. Now, it’s all about acquiring, analysing and utilising information in ways unimaginable only a decade ago, with PIs earning large fees on behalf of corporate clients and private individuals who pay handsomely in order to get their hands on a rival company’s personal and financial information.
In the light of cases involving dubious detective practices, the English Crown prosecution is being forced to revisit the law pertaining to civil and criminal legislation as it affects the data protection act, after four private detectives were jailed recently on charges of criminal conspiracy when they stole and then sold on private information.
Daniel Summers, one of the men at the centre of the operation, managed through persuasion, and impersonation, to by-pass security measures and target banks, financial institutions, government agencies, and law enforcement databases using a technique known as ‘blagging’ (which is a criminal offence) in order to deceive companies, clients, and individuals.
Summers was equally adept at gleaning personal data with regard to domestic issues. Elena Ambrosiadou, founder of Ikos, the Limassol-based hedge fund company, was in Summers’ sights having allegedly been hired by Ambrosiadou’s ex-husband, Martin Coward, during their acrimonious divorce proceedings. Coward, however, has proved to be somewhat unfortunate over his choice of ‘experts’ in their chosen field, having not only Summers in the criminal court, but also his once highly esteemed lawyer, Christopher Grierson QC who, in the past had allegedly given instruction to Summers with regard to Coward’s divorce proceedings.
Grierson, once runner up in the ‘Lawyer of the Year’ contest in 2010, was paid £830,000 a year by the London law firm Hogan Lovells and had worked there for over 30 years. After leaving, he was employed in an administrative role for a Monaco-based hedge fund until his bail conditions necessitated him to surrender his passport. Grierson pled guilty at Southwark Crown court to the false accounting of £1.2 million from Hogan Lovells; now at the age of 60 he faces a maximum prison sentence of seven years.
The Home Office is seriously considering the regulation of private investigators and as Cyprus mirrors the English legal system, the outcome would have an immediate effect on the 20-plus unlicensed private detective agencies currently plying their craft on the island. Many who breach the data protection principles will find themselves in court being held legally responsible along with their clients.
Cyprus is a country which prides itself on being a prime financial business centre, offering highly favourable tax benefits and the freedom of movement of foreign currency, resulting in it being home to a substantial number of international and off-shore companies.
One can easily understand why detective agencies are not only surviving in the current economic climate but positively flourishing, with slick websites trumpeting their impressive ‘spying’ techniques. One click of the mouse and the WWW offers everything a Cyprus-based PI needs to be ahead in the spying game, from iphone spy software, listening devices, telephone voice changers, spoof cards which allow you to change what someone sees on their caller ID display when they receive a call, also computer key loggers which record every keystroke and password typed on any computer keyboard and then encrypts them.
Ex police officers rank as the most effective PIs no doubt based on the fact they know the system and still serving colleagues enabling them to access a data base if a client needs a car registration number traced to its owner, etc. Cyprus isn’t a country where secrets can be easily kept, as nearly every family in the land has a relative working in a bank or government department but, when deeper secrets need to be revealed there will always be those with equally deep pockets who will be able to employ a locally based high-tech private detective.
It’s a somewhat murky world and anyone working to discover the true nature of the detecting business will have to uncover the many layers of artifice and debris which, when peeled back will no doubt reveal even more mountains of money changing hands in exchange for services rendered, and one suspects few if any of the hands will be clean.
Petros Mavros is Director at Avantless Ltd., and a regular contributor to the Financial Mirror.