Discretion the hallmark of Stevens' accounting 'spies'

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The Independent Online

Quest sells itself as "The Professional Intelligence Company" and its services include asset tracking, crisis management, forensic accounting, "protection" and surveillance. It will not confirm any current or former clients, but has worked for major international firms, financial institutions and governments, and has done jobs for the BBC, Railtrack and Shell International.

Quest's HQ is in London but it has staff around the world. It was established by Nigel Layton, now the managing director, who had "close involvement with a series of national and international fraud investigations in his 11 years at Price Waterhouse".

The company's image as a firm that works with spook-like efficiency is enhanced by the recent appointment to its advisory board of Efraim Halevy, a former director of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.

Quest's chairman is Lord Stevens, the Metropolitan Police commissioner from 2000 to 2005. He has worked extensively in Northern Ireland, investigating security breaches, and continues to investigate the death of Princess Diana. He introduced a cloak-and-dagger air to yesterday's press conference by stressing the valuable role of "informants" to the bungs inquiry.

Quest's chief executive is Dick Andrews, who recently retired from the army.

The Premier League inquiry has involved 20 Quest staff working full-time for seven months under the personal supervision of Layton and Andrews. The team has looked solely at permanent transfers, so no loans have been looked at, even though Quest is understood to have been specifically notified of suspicious loan arrangements linked to missing money.

Quest has declined to say how much it is being paid by the League, but £1m for the whole project seems increasingly conservative.

The Quest website provides several case studies of jobs it has completed. One case involved an employee fraud investigation, which is what the football inquiry boils down to. The League asked Quest to unearth only club employees involved in irregular deals. In the case study, a "top-100 UK plc" asked Quest to find evidence that a sales director had given unauthorised discounts to a customer in return for cash payments. The suspect's computer drive was copied, their office searched and they were put under surveillance. Evidence was found, the employee was sacked and £175,000 was recovered.

Another case was an investigation into a prospective client's background for a leading lawyer. Stripping away the jargon on Quest's website, it seems Quest performed a search-engine inquiry and a newspaper database analysis before concluding the person was best avoided. Altogether harder evidence will be needed to prosecute over any suspected bung.

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