Tuesday AM September 20th, 2010

Most companies are relatively ill-equipped to deal with a government investigation, but there are certain things corporations can do, from a planning standpoint, according to an expert from Protiviti. Ed Mayberry reports.


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magnifying glass with wooden handleMost companies don’t have a real need for employees to stand by in case the government comes knocking.  But it can be helpful to understand exposure and to identify and have resources ready for any type of potential investigation.  Protiviti’s Wayne Wilson says there is no “typical” government investigation.

“They can investigate everything from accounting irregularities to Foreign Corrupt Practices Acts to just illegal activities by your board members or upper management.  There’s a basic rule: that is, if you think you may be investigated, you should start behaving as though you are.  You should start retaining documents, you should start planning for the investigation.  You know, that is not the time to start shredding documents.  The types of investigations change, but the preparation is relatively consistent across companies.”

A good rule of thumb is to refrain from putting anything into email that you wouldn’t want to see in a headline — or even in your personal folder — things you wouldn’t want to have to explain in a court of law.

“Make sure you adhere to your company’s document retention policies.  Don’t save an email locally, because invariably those are the types of emails that come back to haunt us — the ones that we shouldn’t be saving in the first place, but we’ve chosen to.  And as a result, counsel’s not aware of it, management’s not aware of it, and you just potentially have a smoking gun that nobody has any knowledge of, because you have essentially usurped rules within the company to save something that should never have been retained.” 

Of course beyond that, Wilson recommends strengthening internal control systems and creating incentives that keep individuals from committing fraud, encouraging appropriate and ethical behavior.  Protiviti is holding risk oversight presentations in Houston.

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