Gary Miller is a Partner at Mishcon de Reya. He founded the firm’s Fraud Group, which he led for over 15 years, and co-founded The International Fraud Group (IFG) – a network of specialist fraud lawyers based across 20 countries who focus on securing injunctions, asset recovery and trust busting remedies in key offshore jurisdictions.
As told to Jessica Hart.
I arrived in Hong Kong in August of 1977, in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record. I knew nothing about the landscape and the jurisdiction other than that English law pretty much worked there.
Hong Kong was an exciting place to take your English law qualification. It’s a small place, and I got to know all of the lawyers, barristers and judges in a few months. Most people were qualified under some form of English legal jurisdiction – English, South African, Australian, New Zealanders. I quickly assimilated to life there.
In many areas, the law was about 20 years behind the UK in terms of legislation, but the asset recovery area was very advanced. You could arrest a prospective defendant via a civil process and put them in custody until they provided insurance for your claim. There was no guarantee you would get people back once they left the island. It was Wild West in terms of people ripping other people off, but they had unbelievably wide powers in the civil jurisdiction to deal with fraudsters.
The fraud litigation work found me. I became friendly with a bank manager who had been hoodwinked into releasing $5 million of the bank’s money on the basis of some banker’s drafts drawn on a South American Bank. The case involved the police in Hong Kong; the Internal Investigation Department within the Bank; and the FBI in America. It was my baptism into the area of fraud; into how Hong Kong’s legal system was able to be reactive and pro-active in dealing with financial loss. In the end, compensation came in the form of some diamonds from the fraudster’s safety deposit box which we monetised.
I started to build a database of people and experience of how to react when these things happened. When this bank had problems in the future, they would come straight to me because we knew each other and had worked together before.
I was taken with the idea of a more multi-cultural business. After negotiations I joined Robert Wang & Co and headed up the litigation group there. That was really when I started to get a broader exposure to private client and private wealth work, looking after high net worth people and their families and their investments when problems arose in Hong Kong and internationally. I litigated in India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Taiwan.
I eventually came back to London in the late 80’s because I was struck by love. I met my wife, who I’ve been married to for 28 years. We had children and I wanted to be in London. But my kids started to grow. And communication became more immediate – you could contact somebody in Hong Kong without a telex, without a fax. The world was getting smaller.
Our International Fraud Group is about identifying good friends. We’ve got really good core relationships in Hong Kong and Singapore. With anything – a house or a marriage – you need a solid foundation: the same applies to a working relationship overseas. We are still the only law firm to create and manage an international fraud network.
Clients in Hong Kong with money in offshore jurisdictions want people who understand the way civil and criminal law work together. They want them to be able to rapidly secure orders for the seizing of evidence and, ultimately, recover assets. That skill set has grown faster and become more sophisticated in the UK – in recent years we have become experts in fighting fraud.
I go to the Far East three or four times a year on business. I am sure I will explore and re-explore Asia for leisure. Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam are becoming accessible. And China is more accessible than ever. Asia is a truly fascinating continent.