Detecting hidden assets in divorce cases
Discovering a hidden £10 million, scrutinising a business to give it a value of £100 million or concluding a £5 million capital gains tax assessment are all in a day’s work for forensic accountant Alf Pare.
Alf, based in Coventry, has been an accountant for 41 years.
But it has been his work delving into money matters for divorcing couples over the last 21 years that sets him apart from your ordinary numbers man.
Forensic accounting is the specialty practice area of investigating details of financial issues which can then be used in negotiations or in court. For family cases, this routinely involves valuing business assets, calculating capital gains liabilities or how much income a business generates so those figures can be used in financial settlements.
“I qualified as an accountant in 1967 but only did my first litigation support case in 1987,” said Alf, who officially retired as a partner from Prime accountants in Coventry in December 2006 but continues to work as a consultant for the firm.
“I was actually acting for a client who was getting a divorce. One case then became two and continued to grow each year so that I now deal with 60 to 70 cases a year.
“It is all about being prepared and working with solicitors and barristers and going to court if necessary to explain financial matters so that everyone understands where the figures come from.
“I deal almost exclusively with divorce cases where I am employed by firms of solicitors, and normally act for both sides as a single, joint expert. If they cannot reach agreement on the value of assets, often a business owned by one of the parties, I am asked to assess the potential values involved.
“The problem is of course that if the case goes to court I am then cross-examined by both parties. One generally wants me to increase the values and the other to reduce them!
“It is not always about putting a straightforward valuation on the firm – a vanilla valuation – but can be looking at capital gains tax and how this would affect a settlement, how much money can be taken out of a business, what the assets are and also tracing hidden assets.
“I had a case a few years ago where two husbands tried to tell their wives they had no money and when the investigations finished some £10 million was found, in another case I signed off a valuation of a company at over £100 million
“It does get the blood flowing but can also be very exhausting.
“In most cases though, I am simply called on by both parties to reach a fair assessment of a business value and income so a settlement can be reached.
“Let’s be honest, accountancy can be boring from time to time – but forensic accounting allows me to become much more like a detective and is rather more exciting.”