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Based in the British Virgin Islands, Martin Kenney spends much of his time pursuing cases in financial power centres like London (Hamish Brown)
Based in the British Virgin Islands, Martin Kenney spends much of his time pursuing cases in financial power centres like London (Hamish Brown)

The fraud hunter Add to ...

It's a demanding job chasing fraud artists around the world. But Martin Kenney can't complain about at least one imposition of his vocation-the need to relocate. The best place to pursue ill-gotten gains, it turns out, is where they're most often hidden. That just happens to be the Caribbean.

From the luxury island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, amidst an archipelago of tax havens, Kenney runs one of the world's most successful asset-hunting and recovery firms. The Canadian-reared lawyer-elder brother to federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney-has seen his staff complement grow from five people to 17 in four years. And things are bound to get better: "With the explosion of global fraud we are seeing an enormous number of new cases," says Kenney. Even after spectacular anomalies like the Bernie Madoff case are put aside, he estimates that white-collar theft has swollen to $1 billion (U.S.) a month over the past three years.

But the money he'll make from this crime wave is not his motivation. "What inspires me to work hard in these cases is to help right wrongs and help folks who have been vanquished by villains....I just think it's a good thing to do," says the impeccably dressed Kenney, seated behind an antique desk in his Road Town office, his Afghan hound Jackpot at his feet.

After ruthlessness, perhaps the most consistent trait of fraudsters is the lengths-and distances-they'll go to evade justice. Legal systems that stop at national boundaries are ill-equipped to bring them to justice. The secret of Kenney's success was to realize, more than a decade ago, that a specially armed legal firm could tread where police and courts could not.

Kenney, 49, is from an "old school" family; indeed, the Kenney men have distinguished themselves in diverse fields. Kenney's grandfather Mart led the Western Gentlemen, Canada's leading dance band in the thirties and forties. Uncle Jack was a respected lawyer and chairman of the Ontario Jockey Club. Younger brother Jason headed the Canadian Taxpayers Federation before successfully running for federal office in 1997.

As for Kenney's father, also named Martin (nicknamed "medium" to his father's "well-done" and son's "rare"), he is a onetime fighter pilot who, in the late seventies, saw a need to toughen up his son as he neared the end of high school. The oil patch would do the trick. "My dad got me this job, saying, 'You're okay at school, okay at sports. Let's see how you are at being a workingman.'" Kenney recalls.

"It was really horrendous that first summer: The men I was working with were violent, often drunk. They were always getting thrown into jail. I wasn't really accepted at first. It was 12-hour days, 14 days straight. But by the end of the summer, I'd risen from roughneck to motorman and then derrick hand, and had $20,000 to take away for my studies."

Kenney followed his uncle into law, moving rapidly through the world of commercial practice. By his early 30s, he was a high-flying partner with a British litigation firm in New York and one of the world's few specialists in multijurisdictional litigation.

But then I watched him retrieve $5 million in 90 days, offshore. It was the most remarkable thing I'd ever seen New York lawyer Irving Cohen

That post introduced him to the dangers inherent in chasing criminals. An early assignment was to pursue a $6-million (U.S.) gambling debt owed by a Japanese real-estate investor, Akio Kashiwagi, to an Atlantic City casino owned by the one and only Donald Trump.

Upset at being forced to quit playing at 4 a.m., Kashiwagi had refused to pay up. So Kenney was dispatched to Tokyo, where he had a court freeze Kashiwagi's palatial house on Lake Fuji. Kashiwagi would later be found murdered, with more than 150 wounds from a samurai sword. Only with this news did Kenney learn that his quarry had been connected to a yakuza crime syndicate.

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