summarise the work your firm does and the ways in which you distinguish
yourself in the provision of business crime & fraud law advice.
Our firm – the Law Offices of Panag &
Babu is the largest multi-disciplinary business crimes practice in India. We
take pride in the firm being viewed as the pre-eminent firm of choice to act
for corporations facing business crimes, corporate governance or other allied
challenges in India.
What distinguishes our practice is our deep
experience in handling multi-jurisdictional cases of fraud, bribery, money
laundering or other governance breaches. We understand global enforcement and
regulatory trends, which enables us to plan and execute investigation, defence
or compliance enhancement strategies through the lens of what would be expected
not just in India but outside the country as well. In a globalised world with
dynamic enforcement agencies, legal responses to business crime cannot become
unidimensional as we have seen in the recent cases; which is something we have
significant experience in.
Our practice has been to have a sector and
jurisdiction (across India) agnostic approach to business crimes. As a business
crime specialist law firm – we provide a comprehensive advisory framework for
our clients which would include not just internal investigations or compliance
advocacy; but also coordinated crisis management / response and the defence of
government investigations, enforcement actions, and ensuing criminal / civil
have you had to adapt your work methods in light of COVID-19, in order to
maintain your existing client relationships?
We were fortunate to have undertaken steps
at the onslaught of the pandemic, to move to a work from home model before the
more formal lockdown in India came into being. As early as 16 March 2020, we
had intimated our clients about our business continuity plan – which was
approximately 2 weeks before the rest of the country shut down. This allowed us
to test our technology solutions, undertake amendments, switch heavy bandwidth
applications for lite versions and we were ready and better placed to service
our clients when their offices closed.
We also took measures of not having our
entire system linked to a single source product like Webex or MS Teams, but
rather allowed access across all platforms – to prevent firewall issues for
clients. This again served us well and did not disrupt communication.
We took a conscious decision to not bombard
our clients with alerts / webinars but rather have personalised engagement
specific to their needs and challenges.
does your current workflow look like – and what are some of the current
business crime issues clients are bringing to your attention? If possible,
please provide a recent case study, demonstrating your service offering in
has the interruption of business chains at a global level and the break of
transactional commercial relations affected your current caseload? Has it led
to new forms of business crime, such as companies operating outside the
guidelines of social distancing and employee welfare? Please give details.
We have continued to remain very busy
through the past few months, with our capacity of work being 130-140% per
lawyer, which is in fact in sync with comparable quarters outside the pandemic.
The workflow has been to a large part (almost 70 percent) the culmination of pre-pandemic
investigations and matters.
In terms of new matters, we have seen
significant increase in auditors alleging forged / fabricated documents being
submitted, as finance teams rush to close books; allegations of bribery to have
businesses enlisted as ‘essential services’ or other relaxations for
operations; and response to enforcement action becoming more complex as courts
are not fully functional.
We recently assisted a Fortune 500 company
in the essential services space, to take steps to enhance compliance mechanisms
to further strengthen its anti bribery program, given government interaction
for operational continuity (obtaining curfew / movement passes) was enhanced.
This program was put together in less than a week factoring in the unique
requirements of every Indian state, where our client operated with a field
force of more than 3000 employees.
We have also successfully approached
virtual courts to freeze assets where our clients were defrauded, as well as to
obtain de-freezing orders against our clients who were under investigation. All
in all it’s been 14 plus weeks of crisis work predominantly.
types of COVID-19-related fraud have arisen, in your experience? (i.e.
cyber-attacks on citizens and institutions, or the phishing and theft of data,
IP and funds.) How do you advise clients to mitigate – and litigate against –
Cyber attacks have definitely been at the
forefront and organisations across the spectrum (small / medium / large) have
been victims. The Indian government has been issuing timely advise on the
increase of phishing attacks.
Separately, we are likely to see an
increase in frauds associated with payment processing as physical verification
and age old control principles of maker / checker are restricted for companies
that don’t have state of the art accounting software.
Providence and lessons from the 2008 financial
crisis have shown us how criminal misconduct risks including fraud and bribery
increase, with business disruption. Armed with hindsight, it would be prudent
to be prepared, ensure compliance and governance is strengthened – as opposed
to being ignored or becoming a budget casualty. Compliance functions, will have
to rely significantly on technology and remote working for tasks that
customarily were in-person or on-site; but the lack of in-person meetings
cannot be the cause to bring the compliance organisation to a grinding halt and
increase risk. The daunting challenge notwithstanding, this also is an
opportunity to digitise compliance.
companies are increasingly using data science to detect fraud, anomalous
transactions and insurance scams. How have these ongoing developments in AI
techniques assisted your offering in business crime & fraud law (i.e. in
terms of compiling evidence and building a case)?
I believe this is still some time away in
terms of actionable new tools to find their way to the practice, as compared to
the usual suspects for document review, public record searches, transaction
has your litigation work been affected without, for example, the option to go
Litigation work has been challenging not in
terms of quantum, but rather on account of the weak technology platforms used
by our courts. I must admit this has been changing on a rapid basis with our
courts ramping up their infrastructure.
While for the first weeks of the lockdown,
our court appearances drastically reduced – the new normal is quick catching up
and we are getting back to court for more substantive hearings as opposed to
only those with urgency.
do you ensure a well-informed advisory scope for clients who are based in other
jurisdictions, or have operations based overseas? For example, are you
especially active in network events such as conferences wherein information is
exchanged among member firms?
In May 2019, a few leading business crime
practices established the Concilium network to bring together jurisdictional
experts in business crimes. Our focus was not to have one dot in every country
like some of the larger networks, but rather be limited to high quality /
invitation only membership. The network has extensively relied on each other to
stay abreast with typology of business crimes, country specific responses and
regulatory trends during this period.