Speaking on the conviction and sentencing of former Commonwealth Secretariat member of staff Joshua Brien in the UK today, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland said:
“Today, former Commonwealth Secretariat staff member Joshua Brien has been sentenced after being found guilty on all six charges of fraud, three of which related to activities during his time at the Secretariat from 2014 to 2016.
“I want to express my sincere appreciation to the Metropolitan Police team who worked closely and diligently with my Secretariat team to look thoroughly into the facts, collect evidence and identify lessons learned.
“The Secretariat is also grateful for the assistance of the UK and Australian authorities in bringing the perpetrator to justice.
“The Secretariat have already tightened our procedures significantly since the period of the fraud, which would prevent a similar fraud being committed today.
“Because of the work of all involved, we have been able to demonstrate that misuse of public funds will not be tolerated at the Secretariat.”
- Secretariat staff discovered a case of apparent invoice fraud on our Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC) technical assistance consultancy work covering the financial years 2014/15, 2015/16 and the first quarter of 2016/17. The Fraud Response Team was activated under the chairmanship of the Secretary-General and the Secretariat informed and then cooperated fully with the UK authorities in their investigation.
- The amount of the fraud found was £146,000 of CFTC funds. Our insurers compensated the full amount of the loss to the Secretariat, apart from a £25,000 excess (this was received in November 2020). There is a possibility of ComSec recovering some of the funds from the defendant.
- Since the appointment of the current Secretary-General the Secretariat’s procedures have been tightened up since the timeframe in question, regarding:
- 2016: enhanced verification introduced for changes to supplier Bank account details;
- 2017: tighter assessment of technical assistance consultants by reference to measurable deliverables;
- 2018: significant improvements to record keeping for consultancy contracts, in light of an audit recommendation that year;
- 2019: further enhanced verification of changes to supplier details, including email address, phone numbers and any other contact details;
- 2020: oversight of short-term consultancies and monitoring of low value consultancies transferred from HR to the Procurement team with further tightening of consultancy monitoring procedures including staff training, and quarterly reporting requirements. Pre-recruitment checks have been standardised for all staff.
- Recent KPMG audits of Accounts Payable and of Monitoring Consultants each received an assurance rating of ‘significant assurance with minor improvement opportunities’.
- These changes will significantly reduce the prospect of a fraud of this nature recurring. The Fraud Policy has been reviewed and updated with minor adjustments in light of this experience.