I'm a CFE

Bernardin Assiene, CFE

Head, professional services unit, OIG at The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria

Bernardin Assiene, CFE, found his passion for fighting fraud when he was tasked to investigate a financial fraud in the fuel distribution network at a major multinational American oil company in 1998. “The experience I gained and the lessons I learned shaped the rest of my career,” he says. “Since then, I’ve systematically built or developed internal and external fraud investigation capabilities in oversight departments, and I’ve been privileged to have investigated or led the investigations of some of the most complex and high-profile fraud cases in nearly all organizations I’ve worked for.” Assiene now is the head of the professional services unit, OIG, at The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He says his growing passion for fighting fraud is what finally led him to the ACFE many years ago. He advises other fraud fighters to keep a continuous learning mindset and to join the ACFE.

I was born and raised in Cameroon, although I have spent the last 17 years working internationally.

When I was young, I wanted to be an aircraft pilot. I was addicted to aviation because my father worked as maintenance staff with an airline. Before completing high school, though, it became clear that I wanted to be an auditor. I liked questioning and improving things — and I still do today.

I’ve spent 17 of my 25 years of working experience as an auditor in various capacities, including director of internal audit and chief audit executive. For eight years, I’ve held senior executive roles in corporate and external investigations. Most recently, I was the director of the United Nations World Food Programme Office of Inspections and Investigations before I moved to my current position.

My department supports the work of the Global Fund Office of the Inspector General. We set strategies and develop policies, provide technical support in audit and investigations, and provide input to improve the quality of audit and investigation reports. We also provide operational and performance reporting capabilities, investigations’ caseload administration, budgeting and consultancy recruitment, and IT security and data analytics support.

Thanks to the opportunity afforded by the ACFE mentoring program, I'm also a mentor to young anti-fraud professionals, and I'm currently mentoring one in Benin.

I personally investigated a major financial reporting fraud involving a CEO, his CFO and the business controller in an affiliate packaging company of a multinational diversified group I worked for in 2006. The three senior executives were aware that the company was losing money on items they were manufacturing, but they hid the losses and simulated profits.

The executives reported monthly profits to the group’s headquarters, but these weren’t turning into effective cash flow. They requested cash advances to cover their operating expenses, pay themselves and purchase raw materials.

For five consecutive quarters they received these subsidies. I decided to conduct a thorough review of their accounts with an emphasis on their cost accounting reporting system. After a week, I identified very worrying discrepancies. For five previous quarters, the company had received $5 million in cash advances from headquarters but had an average recomputed loss of $500,000 against reported monthly profits of $400,000 to $700,000. I immediately suspected a “windows dressing” scheme potentially organized by the top management of the company.

Once I’d confirmed the fraud, I seized the three executives’ computers for a forensic examination. The fraud modus operandi was a simple data manipulation: They were manually adjusting the number in the main Excel sheet from the cost accounting system that was used to calculate the itemized production gross margin for each product. They did this by increasing the calculated margin, generally a loss, to a positive margin value, thus showing overall profitable production operations. These data were the main source of profit/loss calculation in the operating account.

I was instrumental in developing and mainstreaming the transparency and accountability framework of an international organization I worked for between 2010-2014, which is still in use today — it’s the main framework for fraud prevention and anti-fraud enforcement. And in doing so and as a proof of concept, I detected and investigated five of the largest financial fraud cases the organization had faced in its dealings with its grant recipients.

I’m ashamed to say I’ve been a workaholic for the past 20 years. However, I’m still a serial reader of magazines featuring politics, geopolitics and international trade and finance. I also like devoting my time to help others. I’m a mentor and coach to several young professionals in developing countries whom I’m helping grow professionally, including auditors and investigators. Thanks to the opportunity afforded by the ACFE mentoring program, I’m also a mentor to young anti-fraud professionals, and I’m currently mentoring one in Benin. We both attended the 30th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference and spent a lot of time together discussing his professional growth and future.

But my most important and rewarding activity outside of work is spending time with my amazing children. I jokingly call this my “second shift” of the day when I leave the office.

Emily Primeaux, CFE, is associate editor of Fraud Magazine. Her email address is: eprimeaux@ACFE.com.