Elementary my dear Watson

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By 2017-04-16

Those who are keen on English Literature and are fans of Shakespeare would recognize the quote 'The game is afoot' immediately to be from Shakespeare's famous history play, King Henry IV, part I. Those who are not so keen on Shakespeare's works of art, like me for example would attribute the phrase to a Conon Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story. In the Adventure of Abbey Grange, Holmes rushes to Watson and cries "Come Watson, come! The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come" And so, the game of cat and mouse begins, making my eyes glued to the book till the end of the story where the big revelation is sure to blow my mind.

Not just Holmes in Doyle's books, but every other fictional detective acts more or less in a same manner. They astonishingly discover some hidden clue. They jump into a vital conclusion on something seemingly trivial. While doing so, they make us feel little to have missed those 'obvious' points.

Unlike in movies

It is all exciting, high-tempo and action-packed in books but is it the same when it comes to real investigation as well? To know more about Private Investigations (PI) in Sri Lanka, Ceylon Today contacted Mario Perumal who is the Managing Director of Vigilant Security and Investigation Services (Pvt) Ltd. According to Perumal, people affiliate investigating with what they have seen in the movies but it is not the actual case. "When people hear investigating, they think of a guy sitting at a coffee shop, holding a news paper to his face and taking photos with a big-lensed camera. But real surveillance is nothing like that" said Perumal.

Another difference between fiction and real investigation is that these days, more and more investigation firms are leaning towards corporate investigations rather than solving murders and doing surveillance. "Crimes like murder require advanced facilities to analyse evidence. We don't have those resources and it is costly to establish one. We used to do surveillance but we don't any more for various reasons" said Perumal.

As a service provider, the PI firm need to be able to guarantee their work. Every other task a PI firm gets could be guaranteed except for surveillance. Most of the time people come to a firm with an ongoing suspicion and demand a 100% result. "Unlike in the movies, you do get caught in the traffic, you do get pulled over by the police and it's not like you can't run straight past red lights. These things happen in real life and it affects the outcome" explained Perumal. Staking out in residential areas can raise suspicions among the residents. It is not the company's intention to be a nuisance to some even while serving another. Most of the surveillance and tailing a subject takes place in Colombo or in its vicinity. Colombo being a small place, the chances of running into someone you know are high. Sometimes even the subject could end up being one you know. To avoid dealing with such moral and ethical dilemmas, the company has decided it is best not to take on such cases. "We have enough cases to keep ourselves busy with in the corporate sector. Having said that we get at least two or three calls a week requesting services in surveillance cases" added Perumal. But the company takes on background checking cases as long as no following of a person is included.

Exciting nonetheless

With bloody cases and surveillance out of the window, one might think that there is no excitement left in the PI sector anymore.

But the truth is there are many other areas where PIs work in even though most of them are corporate gigs. Within corporate investigations, pre employment background checks and investigative due diligence are frequent more than others.

Most companies nowadays do background checks and some have included it in their policy to do so. Checking the authenticity of the certificates and checking for a criminal past is routine. The PIs nowadays go another extra mile by checking the digital footprint of the subject. Perumal urged the youth to be very careful about what they post online. Youth these days publish anything and everything online, especially on social media websites. Who knows, not being extra careful might cost you a job opportunity one day.

Intellectual property investigations are gaining much interest these days in Sri Lanka. There are a lot of counterfeit products in the country most of which are not produced in the country but are imported to be sold here. According to Perumal there used to be a lot of counterfeit clothing items produced in Sri Lanka but due to precautions taken by the popular clothing stores to identify counterfeit products of popular brands, the issue is now mostly under control. But there are a lot of counterfeit computer parts and automobile parts sold here in Sri Lanka. A lot of grey pharmaceutical products are also sold within the country.

When such a case is given, first an investigator visits the establishment where the suspected goods are said to be sold. He then buys the product and the analysing part is done by the experts back at the company. With the aid of the facilities at their disposal, a report is prepared declaring the authenticity of the product and given to the client. "It is an interesting area. More and more brands are coming to Sri Lanka and they all require brand protection" said Perumal.

Insurance investigations are another practice frequented by local PI agencies. Many insurance companies want to check whether some claims made by clients are fraudulent or not. Vigilance Security verifies the authenticity of insurance claims such as travel, medical and accident among others. Perumal recalled such an incident where they were called upon to verify a certain insurance claim."There was this foreigner who had fallen off a hotel balcony and injured himself. He had claimed insurance and the company wanted us to verify the incident. We visited the hospital and contacted the local police and produced a full report on the events to the client"

Experience essential

Getting police to reveal their information could be somewhat tricky as they are not bound to do so. Having investigators who have worked in the police before comes in handy in times like these. In fact, Vigilant Security recruits only those who have served in the police or other forces before. Having work experience in divisions such as CID (Criminal Investigation Division) and SIS (State Intelligence Service) is much preferred. As a policy, Vigilant Security doesn't hire newcomers "We do get a lot of emails from young people who are interested in the field but we have to kindly turn them down as we only hire experienced ones" said Perumal.

One thing that the PIs in Vigilant Security are extra careful about when submitting reports is not to interpret their findings. They don't speculate. They don't jump to conclusions and they just report facts. What they would say in conclusion is that it is either true or false in their opinion and let the client decide on the best course of action. As there are at least two parties involved, PIs try to be impartial and fair to each and every party involved when reporting the findings. What we witness in the books is the complete opposite where fictional detectives jump into wild conclusions based on a small piece of evidence, which helps the flow of the story down the line.

Established back in '73, Vigilant Security and Investigation Services boasts a handsome 43 years of working experience in the field. Both security and the investigation parts were carried out by the same company until 2002 when the investigation arm of the company was separated and named International Investigators Network.

According to Perumal, the gig they get most is pre-employment verifications. It is a low paying job compared with other cases but there is more volume in pre-employment verifications. In real life it might not be as thrilling as it is depicted in movies and books but Perumal finds his job to be a pleasurable one. "I find it fun. Our usual work is in security but here in investigations, we feel like we are adding value to companies and society, especially with our services such as pre-employment background checks" reflected Perumal.

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