Promoting Open Source Intelligence Techniques to Investigate Corruption in Southeast Asia

Online, 9 March 2021 - The expansion of the internet and increased digitalization of payment processes have revolutionized the ways in which the proceeds of corruption can be siphoned off and concealed. New technological advancements, including with respect to social media and online marketplace platforms, mobile payments, digital currencies and anonymization software, have reduced the risks and costs associated with transferring the proceeds of crime across jurisdictions. Compounded by already low levels of financial transparency in much of Southeast Asia, such technologies enables individuals to bypass checks on funds entering the licit economy and to exploit regulatory and enforcement gaps, undermining Anti-Money Laundering measures and allowing corruption to evade detection.

Nevertheless, emerging technologies provide significant opportunities for anti-corruption investigations. With the advancement of an open data culture and increased availability of online data, big data analytics and data mining technologies have increased the amount of information that can be used to gather intelligence, develop leads and consolidate evidence. Recent years have seen an increase in companies such as Quantexa, SAS and BDO that pioneer the use of AI, machine learning and analytics to support the detection, investigation and analysis of fraud and corruption.

To promote the utilization of innovative investigative approaches in corruption investigations, UNODC held Webinar on Open Source Intelligence, Innovative Investigative Techniques and New Payment Methods to Investigate Corruption in Southeast Asia on 9th March 2021. The event was the latest in a UNODC webinar series looking at aspects of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) in Southeast Asia.

Overview of the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) Cycle by Grace Hin Lai Yee (Chief Investigator of Operations Department, Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), Hong Kong, China)

During the webinar, speakers agreed on the importance of adopting a multi-source approach to investigations, not limited to any single form of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). By doing so, investigators can corroborate information effectively, and establish patterns that go beyond isolated companies, individuals and transactions. Indeed, case studies discussed in the webinar revealed the significant role of professional networks dedicated to laundering the proceeds of corruption, the subject of a recent OECD report.

Tips on Open Source Investigations by Peter Huppertz (Team Leader IT & eLearning, Basel Institute on Governance)

Meanwhile, innovative tools can save time and resources for investigative authorities by pulling together information from multiple sources. For example, Peter Ritchie (Regional Anti-Corruption Adviser for the American Bar Association (ABA) Rule of Law Initiative) identified the role of government database aggregators in his case study of investigations into unexplained wealth in foreign real estate.

Example by Peter Ritchie, Regional Anti-Corruption Adviser, of platform that aggregates government and commercial databases

In addition to this, other speakers acknowledged the role of technology in streamlining vast volumes of open source data. For example, Jerome Bryssinck (Global Head of Government, Quantexa) explained how machine learning can be used for the purposes of entity resolution, whereby entities with different names (such as suspects with multiple aliases) can be subsumed into the same identity marker, to simplify network analysis going forward.

As a fast-evolving area of law enforcement, speakers touched on the importance of legislation around new payment technologies, to ensure that data transparency keeps abreast of innovation. Likewise, continued advances in beneficial ownership legislation will be important to ensure that the fight against corruption remains a dynamic battleground.

Please note that the subject of this web-story was a closed webinar, and so unfortunately is not available for public viewing. Footage and summaries of UNODC open webinars are publicly available below or via our website.

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