Business 'spies' defect from US

William Raynor reports on moves by accountancy firms to recruit senior corporate investigators

At least two of the "Big Six" accountancy firms - Coopers & Lybrand and Deloitte & Touche - are moving into what one of them calls "business intelligence", hitherto the preserve of corporate investigation companies such as Kroll Associates and Control Risks.

In London, this will be formalised tomorrow when Emma Codd, the firm's first "head of business intelligence services" starts work at Deloitte's. Ms Codd, a graduate but not a professional accountant, first worked at the Kroll office in Mayfair and, with a partner, subsequently set up a small investigative firm that they sold to Control Risks.

As a consultant at Control Risks, she was responsible for managing the surveillance which, in catching a senior Co-op executive in the act of handing over confidential information, led to the collapse of Andrew Regan's hostile bid for CWS.

At Deloitte Touche, Miss Codd will be responsible to Alan Bray, partner in forensic services, and will concentrate on providing clients with due diligence, assistance in mergers and acquisitions and the management of "corporate crisis". "On the due diligence front," he said, "big business will increasingly look for firms which can match their global coverage." Companies like Kroll, he argued, were too small to do that.

Meanwhile, Coopers & Lybrand has head-hunted one of the senior investigators in Kroll's Los Angeles office, Steve Vale. Mr Vale has been accompanied by several former colleagues in Kroll, one of whom, Mary Hertzog, was a managing director at its New York headquarters. "There's a nice complement of accounting and investigative skills in this," said Ted Martens, Coopers' litigation and claims partner in New York, "and I see it developing."

Price Waterhouse has recruited a team of six investigators from Decision Strategies, a New York company specialising in corporate intelligence and itself a Kroll "spin-off'.

At Kroll headquarters, the implications are clearly regarded as serious. Kroll is suing Coopers in the US. "We are not suing for the return of Steve Vale," said Kroll chief operating officer Mike Cherkasky, "but for breach of agreement and loss of intellectual property."

Somewhat ironically, in view of subsequent developments, the agreement concerned was reached towards the end of last year when protracted negotiations for Kroll's takeover by the $2bn US information giant Equifax appeared to be stalled and several of the Big Six were reported to be showing interest in buying the company.

Kroll is now alleging that Coopers has breached the terms agreed then for it to come in and inspect them.

In spite of persistent - and as yet unsubstantiated - rumours that the Equifax deal, announced earlier this year, has been foundering on the rocks of due diligence, Mr Cherkasky said that it had received regulatory approval.

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