Breaking Bad Middle East
I often get asked what we do in terms of risk and crisis management. It’s not all about disasters and evacuations, sometimes it much more surreal involving the actions of employees putting the business, personnel and assets at risk. Sometimes, you really couldn’t make it up!
Most of us watch TV, movies, or series that occasionally seem to delve into the impossible, the improbable, or just seem outright ridiculous but every now and then something springs up in our own reality and you really wouldn’t believe unless you saw it first hand. Welcome to breaking Bad Middle East.
I had a call from a client’s global headquarters asking us to support their business in a Middle East country following some quite serious allegations made by an employee through their confidential reporting channels. The allegations, made in most countries wouldn’t likely have had HR take action and not have been so serious but in this environment posed a credible risk to the business, personnel, assets and even risked some difficult political fallout. Some detail has to be withheld but this is the main crux of the story.
With the main accused out of the country I deployed to assess the allegations - that the Manager was brewing and selling alcohol from the company-provided apartment. The apartment was one within a 6 floor building leased entirely by the Client. However, I soon found that this was just the beginning of the story.
I arrived in-country and travelled to the Client’s accommodation just outside the city centre. It was an area known popular with western businesses housing their employees and was thought of as one of the better parts of the city. There wasn’t as much attention paid to the area in terms of identifying or investigating criminal activities as there was in other less attractive spots. There was however a high level of patrolling both overt and covert for the security of this sector and few things would go unnoticed.
The building was the typical 6 floor tower, all 2 - 3 bedroom apartments, nothing flash, no glitz clean on the outside but housing it’s own secrets inside.
I gained access to the apartment. First impressions count as they say and the only way to describe the smell would be to imagine a pub, lacking cleaning after a very busy night. The stench of old alcohol was thick, the floors were sticky, even the walls and ceilings had discoloured and were tacky to touch. This wasn’t the result of a home brew kit bought from the internet!
The main living room was sparsely furnished. Sofas lined the walls framing the room on three ides whilst the bar sat as the focal point. This bar would have out some smaller establishments to shame for its setup! The crowing glory of this room was a huge disco-ball light setup in the centre of the cleaning. When the Client’s HR and Legal saw the photos later than evening it was more of a cold-sweat that Saturday Night Fever!
The three bedrooms had the same feel. Sticky floors and walls, the same smell and brewing paraphernalia stored in the cupboards. It’s difficult to hide four 45 gallon drums in an apartment but they tried, a couple of blankets would surely have thrown any in-depth investigation into disarray. It would be even more difficult to convince anyone that this was for personal consumption.
The allegations were proven in terms of production and supply was assumed at this stage due to the vast quantities being made. As many of you may already know alcohol is still prohibited within some Middle East countries, whilst being tolerated by others. There was zero tolerance in this case.
One of the main questions was whether or not local Police or Intelligence was aware of these activities, monitoring, or waiting to pounce. If this was found to be the case it was likely that all of the company employees would have been detained in one swoop and held indefinitely whilst the investigation was conducted. The effect on the Client’s business and reputation would have ben devastating. Leveraging various relations and sources it became clear that the Police and Intelligence were unaware or at the every least uninterested for the moment but that didn’t lessen the risk. This of course did not discount that the Authorities could catch on whilst the illicit goods were being brought into the country or ferried around.
As the investigation continued more employees opened up ands spoke about the Manager’s activities having being fearful of speaking up previously.
In short, based on information obtained from other employees, the building watchman and other local sources the depth of the problem included:
Alcohol being brewed on an industrial scale.
An apartment setup as a nightclub.
The Manager’s live-in partner found to be travelling on a fake Chinese passport.
Asian women being moved in an out of the apartment providing various personal services - coordinated by the Manager’s partner.
The Manager’s car being used by his partner’s brother to move women, alcohol and other goods around the country.
The Manager using his privileges at the military base to bring illicit good in-country and then use them off-base.
A clean up Mike Ehrmantraut would have been proud of.
The long and short of it was that things had to change and by things I mean everything!
The entire building had an industrial scale deep clean after the removal and disposal of all of the brewing related items.
The lease on the apartment block was cancelled - and a penalty paid - and a new building was found to house all of the Cient’s employees.
The fleet of cars leased by the Client were replaced.
All employees phones were changed and new numbers issued.
What happened to the Manager? Frankly I don’t know but he’s not working there any more.
Job done. I was out of there, in pleno cursu!
So, what is it that I do in terms of risk and crisis management? Whatever you can imagine, and then some!