It was early morning when the plane arrived in Bakou. Ling opened the large exit doors of the brand new airport lounge. God, it was hot outside, she wondered. It was already 30°C or something. The
sun was trying to break out through the heavy black clouds. Amir tapped her on the shoulder and pointed to the mountains afar. Ling could see in the horizon dozens of tall structures. She focused
and recognized oil rig chimneys. How many where there? She had never thought an oil complex could be that big. As far as she could see, she could see those chimneys pouring black smoke that was
transforming into black clouds covering the sky. Two big black stained-glass hummers approached on the access way and stopped in front of them. “My name is Claire Delacour, please to meet you. Come
on in.”, they heard with a slight foreign accent as she stepped out of the car. You could see Amir and Edouard jaws dropping. Claire was a tall, very hot young woman. Her tanned skin was glazing in
the morning daybreaks. She had this way of curling her lips, which revealed her long experience of arousing men. Edouard and Amir immediately rushed to the front seat. “Claire, I’ll go front, we
can talk about our mission”, said Edouard discreetly pushing Amir away. What does a girl like that do in a place like this, thought Ling before realizing how much cliché there was in this thought.
The cars started taking off at full speed on the new empty motorway to the city center. “Cash is flowing in the country since oil companies have come here, explained Claire. President Abaiev has
launched an unprecedented building development in central Bakou. At least a dozen skyscrapers and two motorways are actually under construction, mostly contracted by Chinese companies. Our local
partner at Bagpadan, an intimate cousin of president Abaiev actually does a lot of business with the Chinese”. Claire turned down the music and suddenly spoke lower as to say something confidential
“…and I am a bit worried for our business as I have mentioned to Blackpool’s auditors, because a lot of Chinese tanker ships have accosted to the Bagpadan shipping terminal lately, but officially
we do not have any trade agreements with Chinese companies here”. In the back seat, Amir was eating out Claire’s words. “Don’t worry we are here now”, he dropped out of nowhere. Ling facepalmed
The oil complex was appearing more distinctively now. Ling recognized the place from the report. On the East, the drilling part was distinctive; a forest of pumpjacks were covering the dry, dying
land. South, covered in black dusty smog, she could imagine the refinement plant, its thousands of kilometers of tubes, valves, and chimneys, and in front of them the shipping terminal and the
Bagpadan tower building. Three tankers were sitting alongside the quay. The hummers speeded up through the complex’s heavily protected entrance. They stopped in front of the main building. An
oligarch’s fantasy thought Ling; the tower was all made of glass and steel, and two massive golden statues of horses were guarding the building’s main door. Claire showed them the way through the
main hall. Perhaps 3 or 4 levels tall, it was built so as to look like a cathedral. Four carved marble columns were supporting the ceiling on which were painted a very kitsch patchwork of angels,
oil rigs and right in the middle what looked like the portrait of President Abaiev on a flying lion. “Awful taste”, commented Amir. Ling approved with a little nod. Edouard had started a very
energetic discussion with Claire about life as an expat, particularly in the oil industry. Claire explained how she had accepted to live in such conditions a few years to earn enough to buy herself
a nice little apartment when she’ll go back to London. Ling could understand this point of view as she had often thought about leaving herself, but it seemed Edouard didn’t. “I wouldn’t want to
live anywhere else then at the center of everything”, told Edouard,” Singapour, London, even Brussels; there is so much to do, so much to see out there, you shouldn’t shut yourself away at the edge
of the civilized world dear.” “Well, we’ll see in a few years Edouard, replied Claire, now here is the room you can use for your work. You’ve got access to the accounting software from the computer
in the back. All our documentation for the internal control matrix is in the file on the table. Good luck, I’ll be next door”, she finished closing the door behind them.
“Ling, you will start to have a look at the SOX documentation. Amir… well I was going to tell you to browse through the ERP data, but I see you are already on it”, said Edouard surprised. Yes, Amir
was kind of a geek, remembered Ling, every time there was a computer in a room you could bet Amir would be on it before you knew. She started going through the documentation. SOX stood for
Sarbanes-Oxley, a recent federal law forcing all listed companies on a US stock exchange to comply with very strict and intricate control procedures. Ling was leafing through the 404 section which
disclosed internal control results when Amir abruptly turned around on his chair. “Come and see this guys!”, he shouted very excited. “See these inventories”, he pointed on the screen, “lettering
of these entries is done via a specific sales account numbered 400302.” He paused and tried to use the classical transaction code for this operation. “See! We do not have access to this account!”
He said triumphantly, “it doesn’t even appear in the financial statements given to Blackpool”. Edouard seemed worried, “can you access this account in any way?”, he asked. Amir closed his eyes.
Ling had seen him do that several times already; she knew he was in great concentration at that moment.”I’ll try something”, he said tapping relentlessly on the keyboard, “we know the site
director, M.Everian probably has the access rights because he’s involved in all of this. He might be dumb enough to use his session password to access the accounting software. If I go to the Active
Directory Administration log, I can retrieve his windows password. Now let’s try this one to access the ERP…Bingo!”, he yelled as the software screen appeared. Ling gave a closer look to the data.
“There’s our barrels, she said pointing to the top lines of the screen. You see these transactions; this indicates there have been regular shipments of sour oil to a counterpart in Asia. Try to go
up to the payment, Amir. On which bank account was it paid?”, she added. Amir clicked on one of the transactions and queried the software for the payment. “This bank account doesn’t appear on the
Blackpool’s report!”, he said astonished. ”Payments are automatically directed to the Zoug Helvetic Bank in Switzerland. SWIFT number 0040 003234”, finished Amir leaning back in his chair. Edouard
was slouched on the seat’s armrest and in a deep reflection. Ling looked him in the eye and asked cautiously “So, do we follow the barrels…or the money?”. Edouard slowly rised up and went to the
picture window. He could see all the way down to central Bakou and its dozens of buildings under construction. On his right, a few tankers were waiting their turn to the quay. He turned round to
face Amir and Ling who were waiting with impatience. “Good job guys… We already imagine where the oil is going, probably China… What’s bothering me is how deep the fraud can go. Are Blackpool’s
investments safe? Who is running the system? Juniors, don’t take the pain to unpack, we’re taking the first flight to Zurich…”
© Copyright 2016 Franck Hayes. All rights reserved.