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International Criminal Searches


Unlike the United States, where criminal records can be easily obtained by third-party vendors for employment background checks, it can be quite challenging – and in many cases, impossible – to obtain actual criminal records overseas. Indeed, sometimes, national or local rules may block access of third-party vendors to certain information – including credit history and criminal records – and require that the individual employee or applicant obtain the records directly from the source (e.g., the credit bureau, courts or law enforcement agencies). 

If you have any doubts about what we’re are saying here, based on things you’ve been told by other background check companies, call the embassy in Washington for the respective country you are concerned about. Ask to speak with the legal attaché.  Ask them how a US employer or US based background checks company obtains REAL criminal history records from that country. You will quickly learn the truth about what kinds of information is actually accessible in other countries.


As such, an “international criminal search” by a US employer or US based background checks company is not a “criminal records search” like it would be in the US courts system. In fact, an international criminal search begins with an adverse media search, which is a search of public media sources such as news articles that may contain references to criminal activity involving the applicant. This is combined with a criminality search, which covers international databases maintained by government agencies related to fraud, corruption, corporate crime, terrorism, money laundering, extortion, notable terminations, poor character, Politically Exposed Persons and other criminal activity or unlawful conduct.

International screening information comes from many government and media sources. However, all international screening information needs to be taken with a grain of salt, due to things like name similarity, original information sources, database modifications and other considerations. Employers need to realize that information in some countries is better than in others.

Adverse media sources include news articles and social media globally, covering the following topics:

> Bribery and Corruption
> Corporate Scandals
> Crime (Non-Financial)
> Financial Crime
> Legal Process
> PEP (Prominent Corrupt)
> PEP (General)
> Sanctions (Current High Profile)
> Sanctions (General)
> Terrorism

Government data sources include:

Global Sanctions List: The Global Sanction List contains information from the most important sanction sources from around the world, which are then aggregated and grouped into one category. The Global Sanctions List offers close to 20,000 profiles of individuals and companies of the highest risk rating. Covered lists include:

> Bank of England
> Bureau of Industry and Security
> Department of State
> EU Terrorism List
> FBI Top Ten Most Wanted
> Interpol Most Wanted
> OCC Shell Bank List
> Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Sanctions
> SDN & Blocked Entities
> Treasury PML List
> SECO List
> UN Consolidated List
> WorldBank Debarred Parties List
> CBI List
> ICE List

Global Politically Exposed Persons List: “Politically Exposed Persons” are considered high risk people and employers require enhanced due diligence when conducting business with Politically Exposed Persons, particularly in Private Banking. Financial institutions that have conducted business with PEPs without following adequate Know Your Customer procedures and enhanced due diligence processes have been hit with heavy fines. Since the events of September 11, 2001 over 100 countries have changed their Anti Money Laundering laws to fight against corruption. There has also been greater emphasis and cooperation between nations to enforce the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. While there exists no global definition for a PEP, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), U.S. Patriot Act, and the European Union (EU) Directive use similar definitions and guidelines in which the term Politically Exposed Person was typically defined by the following:

> Officials in the executive, legislative, administrative,
military, or judicial branch of a foreign government

> A senior official of a major foreign political party

> A senior executive of a foreign government or a
commercial enterprise

> An immediate family member – spouse, parents,
siblings, 
children – of such individuals

> Any individual publicly known to be a close personal
or 
professional associate

While the interpretation of these guidelines varies from country to country, and there might be slight variations, the expectations for organizations doing business with Politically Exposed Person are universally similar. The following international standard applies: 1.) Identify the “Politically Exposed Persons” amongst clientele. 2.) Make sure that funds managed by an organization on behalf of the Politically Exposed Person do not derive from a corrupt source.

Global Enforcement List: The Global Enforcement List consists of information received from regulatory and governmental authorities that list the content of warnings and actions against individuals and companies, including narcotic-traffickers, money launderers, fraudsters, human traffickers, fugitives and other criminals.


How international criminal searches are processed


If no “hits” are revealed after searching adverse media sources and criminality/sanctions lists, our research will stop at this point with a report being delivered to the client, indicating “no record found.” In situations where a “hit” is revealed from any of these searches, additional research may be performed in countries where criminal records or “Conduct Certificates” are available for public access, but keep in mind that these records may not be directly available to a background checks vendor.

If this is the case, the vendor will have to engage the services of local officials or private investigators in these countries to obtain the information, or refer the candidate on how to obtain the information themselves. We will apply our best efforts to obtain the information for our clients if they want us to engage. However, there is no certainty that criminal record reports or conduct certificates will actually be obtained because we have no direct access to the people we might engage to obtain this information, and so the transaction is based entirely on the honor system. The preferred method for maximum accuracy is to have the candidate apply for a criminal records report or conduct certificate in person, whenever possible.

When more research is required to obtain actual criminal records, additional considerations are required, including:

Legality Considerations: Employers obtaining criminal records from foreign countries need to be careful how it is done. The one thing that no American firm wants to do is pay money to a foreign official or in-country investigator to obtain criminal records where the rules of the country do not permit such records to be released. Such actions could conceivably be prosecuted in the United States under the federal Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 (FCPA), 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1, et seq.

Turnaround Time: The response time for a report can vary greatly depending upon the country. The average Turnaround Time for the adverse media/criminality and sanctions research can be 5 to 14 business days, depending on how many information sources must be researched. However, it may take even longer to obtain criminal records (if they are legally accessible) because the court may be located in a remote or less-populated region, or because of local customs and requirements that may slow down the process.

Translation: If a criminal record or proof of criminal conduct is obtained, then the foreign criminal record must be translated into English. Remember, too, that British, Australian, and other nations with English as the primary language use different law terms that must be matched to the equivalent here to allow understanding of the facts of an offense.

Level of Offenses: For most counties that permit access to criminal records, the search is typically for felonies or major offenses. However, some courts do allow access to lesser offenses. In many cases, however, the only information available will be a “Conduct Certificate,” which only specifies if a criminal record is on file but does not reveal the nature of the crime.

No Record Found: In the U.S., when court records are searched and there is no record found, there is typically no document provided by the court clerk. Court clerks do not normally confirm a lack of a finding. A “no record” is normally reported by the researcher, indicating they made the appropriate effort and there were no results found. The same is true in doing court searches throughout most of the world. If the criminal record search is at a court and no record is found, there is not likely going to be a document or paper trail that says “No Record.” To have a confirmation that there is, in fact, no record, an employer may need to have the applicant obtain a police certificate and this process can include additional delays.

Even with limited access to actual criminal records overseas, an international criminal search can still be a valuable tool when evaluating foreign nationals before hiring them or engaging them as independent contractors. 

 



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