After property tycoon Charles Rudd and his CEO Nick O’Keeffe are drowned in a sailing accident in Liverpool Bay, insurance investigator William Rohm is sent north to sign-off their big-money life policies. But when Rudd’s widow casts doubt on the Coroner’s verdict and Rohm learns that just two weeks before the men died, the sale of their Blue Havens chain of marinas sparked a bad case of paranoia in the normally fearless Rudd, Rohm suspects that this case is not as straightforward as it seems. Rohm has decided he needs to know more about the overseas buyers of the marinas – Euparal Leisure.
It was almost midnight when Will Rohm logged-on to his company’s search platforms and started trawling. Euparal Loisir S.A. were easy to find but information on them was basic; thin even. They’d appeared from nowhere in 2003 and immediately acquired a dozen high-end spa hotels in Germany, Holland and Belgium – all well-located, established leisure complexes and as risk-free an investment portfolio as you could get. Evie had been right, Euparal’s headquarters was in the south of France but apart from a small block of flats in Juan-les-Pins, they didn’t own any property there. Acquiring Rudd’s Blue Havens chain of marinas had been their first UK venture.
Rohm downloaded the CVs of Euparal’s three Directors. They were nothing special. None of the men had been to good schools or to college and all had worked their way up in mediocre provincial French hotels, only climbing the ladder as far as middle-management.
“Average, average, average,” Rohm mumbled to himself as he stared at their profile photos.
“Journeymen and look it…these guys are just minding the store.”
If their track records had stirred his suspicions, the mugshots made him certain. They might be the registered owners of Euparal but there was no way those three could have started a multi-million Euro business empire.
Euparal’s accounts at the launch date showed that there’d been two main backers but there was nothing about the size or share of their investments. One was a bank in Luxembourg and the other an Investment Fund in the Caymans named CIF. The bank was old school reputable and Rohm was able to go back into their records to find out just how much they’d put in. It had been less than half-a-million Euros. So that could have been for appearances sake – someone using the banks’ good name to provide respectability. The real money must have come from CIF. Five minutes spent mining their provenance told him all he needed to know. The CIF Investment Fund had been set up by a multi-national called EPSOK and Rohm knew exactly who they were.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, it was rumoured that chunks of Russia’s infrastructure had been taken over by an unholy alliance of former senior Communist Party members, ex-KGB officers, trades union bosses and organised crime. Adrift in the unfamiliar post-Marxist, capitalist waters of commercial supply chains, contracts and company accounts, there was a vacuum of business expertise in the country and big-time Russian crooks and fixers were the only ones who knew how to project-manage both people and resources. EPSOK took over the production and supply of energy, steel and concrete for most of eastern Russia and by the late 1990s, their turnover was more than the GDP of a medium-sized country. The Russian government had tried to rein them in but it was too late; by then they’d diversified, gone global and international criminal networks were involved.
EPSOK had been investigated by the Americans for money laundering and gangsterism and many of their acquisitions were unregulated, highly dubious affairs. A couple of years ago, one of Rohm’s UK clients claimed EPSOK had been behind a case of data theft and he’d read a report on them. It had made his hair stand on end. Now, as he thought about their possible involvement in this case, it was starting to curl.
Rohm poured himself a glass of water and paced around the room. ‘What-ifs’ filled his mind. He couldn’t think straight. It was almost two-a.m. when he logged-out, switched-off and went to bed but just before six, he woke up sweating like a bar steward. It had been a troubled, restless four hours sleep and now he had the beginnings of a migraine. He made himself a cup of undrinkable hotel room tea then lay back on the bed and turned on the TV. The early morning news was on. He watched the lips of the presenters move but he wasn’t listening to what they said. He had other things on his mind.
He drifted for another hour then went down for breakfast but by eight-thirty, he was back at his desk. He’d just emailed Jo Stet to let her know about the EPSOK connection when his office responded to last night’s email. They hadn’t let him down – they’d fixed up his conference call with Jo and a Detective Donna Winter from the Liverpool police. He hacked through the Rudd case files again and drafted out a list of questions he wanted to ask the cops then he went back on to the web. There were a couple more things he wanted to check out.
At ten-o’clock, he joined the call. Jo Stet was already on the line.
“…we really appreciate this. Sorry about the short notice,” she said.
“No problem but I can only give you ten minutes,” replied the policewoman. This was no rookie cop, thought Rohm. She spoke with the voice of bitter experience – dark and low.
“Hello – Will Rohm here.”
“Detective Sergeant Winter. How can we help?”
Rohm lied and told her the call was part of Leighton’s protocols then asked her about the day last December when the sailing accident took the lives of Charles Rudd and Nick O’Keeffe.
“So the first time the police knew there was a problem was when the men’s wives called to say they were concerned?” said Rohm.
“It wasn’t the families who raised the alarm – it was one of Charles Rudd’s staff. A Mr Danny Fitz called and told us they were missing. He’d been due to pick them up from Liverpool marina on Monday lunchtime but they didn’t show up. Mr Fitz had taken them to the boat the Friday before.”
“That’s not in your report. It reads like you established the timeline from the families.”
“The case summaries we send out don’t have much detail I’m afraid. Sorry, we should probably improve our systems.”
Rohm let it pass and moved on.
“Before that, there’d been no distress messages and no one had reported a boat in trouble?”
“And what did you think of him?
“Danny Fitz? He chalked up a couple of GBHs a couple of years back but he’s kept out of trouble since.”
“I meant Charlie Rudd. You knew him yes?”
There was silence on the line. It was a technique Rohm had used before. Wrong foot the subject and if they’ve got something to hide, they’ll start leaking lies to cover their tracks. Twenty years’ experience as an inquisitor and the application of a few lessons learnt from Behavioural Psychology meant that Will Rohm could spot a lie before it came around the corner, even over the phone. Changes in voice tone and sentence structure, too many carefully prepared answers and immediate responses, a need to convince you they’re telling the truth…there were a dozen ways someone could give themselves away.
“I searched through the back pages of the local press. There’s a photo of the two of you together at a Chamber of Commerce lunch,” said Rohm.