PracticeAuditProfile: Adam Bates: Tracking down the oil money.

Profile: Adam Bates: Tracking down the oil money.

It's surely not the first time that Adam Bates, global head of forensic accounting at KPMG, has encountered obstructions as he goes about his daily work. But the confusion surrounding his firm's multimillion-pound contract to investigate the corruption-riddled Iraqi oil for food programme must take the biscuit.

KPMG was commissioned by the Iraqi Governing Council to investigate the scandal-hit fund. Originally established to allow Iraq to sell oil for humanitarian supplies, such as food and medicine for its people, oil for food came under fire after it was reported that more than $10bn (£5.6bn) was misappropriated from the programme.

Investigators estimate that the kickbacks and oil voucher scams may have led to 15% of the $62bn programme being illicitly siphoned off. That’s not all: of greatest concern is that UN officials may have been directly cashing in, or at least turning a blind eye.

But back to KPMG – its work was halted after Paul Bremer, head of the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority, said it could not be paid for out of CPA funds without going through a proper tender process.

The resulting situation is farcical to say the least. The governing council has confirmed KPMG as the investigator, but a twin-track process has emerged as the provisional authority has its tender procedure underway.

For 44-year-old Bates, the frustration is twofold. He must be champing at the bit given the sheer scale of the investigation. It’s a veritable coup in business terms. As well as UN officials, the corruption allegedly involved prominent politicians from the UK and France, hundreds of foreign businessmen, and figures from the world of international organised crime.

Gigs like this can’t crop up too often. The KPMG investigators in Baghdad have access to financial and other records from the files of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

But as any forensic accountant worth their salt must know, the uncertainty and ensuing delays caused by the decision to put the audit contract out for tender will do little to help the case. Time is of the essence, and indeed some have expressed concerns that vital evidence may be lost. Many documents were destroyed when government buildings were looted in the turbulent weeks following the US capture of Baghdad, and rumours are circulating that the paper-shredding machines are working round the clock.

But frustrations and uncertainty aside, Bates is no stranger to the thick of the action. In 1989, having well and truly cut his teeth, Bates was attached to the attorney general’s chambers of a far-eastern country, assisting with the successful criminal prosecution of individuals connected with a fraudulent investment company. That experience will no doubt have come in handy in the Iraq job.

But perhaps it was his two year secondment to the Special Investigation Unit of the Bank of England until September 1995 that Bates showed the world he was a force in his field. He was appointed head of forensic at KPMG in March 2002, assuming his current global role last October.

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