The Fruits of Fraud
by Craig Silliphant
The mere mention of asset recovery might make one’s eyes glaze over, but this highly specialized field takes place in a thrilling world of intrigue—and Martin Kenney is the James Bond of this high stakes milieu.
photos by Neil Massey
Kenney (LLB’83) and his team at Martin Kenney & Co.—an international investigative and litigative law practice based in the British Virgin Islands—help people and organizations that have been harmed by fraud and other economic crimes. One could dramatize Kenney’s story by saying he had yearned to halt fraudsters since his youth, but his venture into this particular branch of law is much more innocuous.
“I was in Saskatchewan when I was 17,” laughs Kenney, “and I was asked for the yearbook what I wanted to do. I said I wanted to be an international lawyer, to which my friends asked, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ They were laughing at me. I said, ‘It sounds good because you get to travel around the world in airplanes,’ which was a stupid response by a 17-year-old. I really didn’t understand what this was all about until I fell into it.”
After moving around Canada throughout his childhood, Kenney attended high school at Notre Dame College in Wilcox, SK. He received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Regina and made the trek to Saskatoon to get his law degree from the University of Saskatchewan. He was then off to England to earn his Masters in International Business Law.
After articling in British Columbia, in the field of civil litigation, securities fraud, and criminal law—a move which started him down his ultimate path—Kenney ended up in the private sector in Victoria, B.C. There, he found a mentor in an Irish barrister named Dermond Owen Flood. “I had to join him in his office after court on Friday afternoons for a series of cocktail champagnes,” remembers Kenney. “I was trained by a great character.”
In the years that followed, Kenney worked all over the world, eventually starting his own practice. He now represents victims and claimants who are assailed by fraud and all manner of Ponzi-style schemes and attempts to recover their assets. To quote the hardboiled detective Jake Gittes from the film Chinatown, Kenney must “follow the money.”
“[We] trace the value all over the world,” he explains. “The mission is to find out what happened—how it was laundered, layered, and integrated into the legitimate economy. We want to locate what we call the ‘fructus sceleris,’ a Latin phrase meaning ‘fruits of fraud.’ Once we find and freeze the asset, we would go into an open form of litigation, usually ferociously fought by the other side.”
It may seem like all this fraud and intrigue only happens in far-off countries, but this could not be further from the truth. Not only are our own citizens victims of this crime, the dirty money ends up in our backyard more than we think.
“In one case,” says Kenney, “there was $256 million stolen from 456,218 elderly people [through a lottery scam]. The money was laundered off-shore through various structures, through the Netherlands and Chile. It went through the Caribbean and Barbados and ended up back in Canada to buy shares in a series of [Alberta] companies—over $175 million worth of properties. The money can float right back to where it began. It’s all very sinister and wicked, but it happens every day.”
If one side of Kenney’s practice is finding and recovering money, the other side is the psychological aspect. After losing all their money, Kenney’s clients are often incredibly distraught.
“I’ve had people who had heart attacks or were suicidal,” he shares. “It’s like hospital emergency ward lawyering. The client comes in bleeding, in not only economic terms, but also psychological. You have to patch them and give them confidence that they can take on these bad guys and win back their money—and maybe even get some criminal justice. Sometimes it’s not just about the money but also the idea of criminal justice.”
Kenney fronts a growing multi-disciplinary team of 25 people, including former officials from international law enforcement bodies like the RCMP, FBI, CIA, and MI6. They utilize methods that range from computer expertise to undercover work. Because they are dealing with dangerous criminals, there is a large element of personal danger for Kenney and his team.
“It’s like hospital emergency ward lawyering. The client comes in bleeding, in not only economic terms, but also psychological.”
“I’ve had my share of death threats and everything else,” admits Kenney. “We’re talking about a very serious criminal who steals a lot of money. If you deprive them of that money, they just go absolutely crazy. In some cases, like in the Ukraine for example, a human is worth about $500 in terms of what it costs to have someone killed. Our work is not a joke in terms of risk.”
Despite the occupational hazards, it is apparent Kenney has had a rich and rewarding career—he gets to follow his passion for litigation and help those who have been wronged.
“What I learned in leaving Canada as a young person after finishing my education,” says Kenney, “is that the world is a lot different than Canada, a tougher and more brutal place in some respects. However, the values taught in Canada are excellent and can be applied to help folks all over the world. I would encourage young law students that are interested in litigation and justice to consider a career doing what I do. Each case is a massive puzzle that is fascinating to figure out. It’s also limitless in terms of having the opportunity to do really good work that helps folks. It restores them to a sense of good health and well-being.”