Neil Ritchie: the UK, Europe and Beyond

I currently work as a lawyer / investigator at the European Anti-Fraud Office (known as OLAF) in Brussels. The Office conducts administrative investigations into fraud, corruption and serious irregularities affecting the financial interest of the European Community.

I am a recent recruit to the Rank Fellowship, having participated in events over the past two years. However, I was a beneficiary of the Rank Foundation many years earlier during my school days at Radley College, where I benefited from the inspirational leadership of my then headmaster, Dennis Silk and my housemaster, Richard Morgan.


I arrived at Radley on a music scholarship, having been Head Chorister at Christ Church Cathedral Choir in Oxford, and music was to remain one of the foundations / mainstays in my early life. The second was sport, and in particular rugby, where I developed a fearsome reputation as a tackler. The foresight to nurture these talents, as well as the decision to send both my brother and I to private schools on music scholarships, I owe to my mother, who was a professional singer, and to my father, who was passionate about opera and rugby.


From Radley, I went on to the University of St Andrews in Scotland where, in addition to learning the rudiments of golf and Scottish country dancing, I studied Mediaeval and Modern History. It was at this point that I made my first career choice, deciding to go into the law, rather than become a professional singer.


After two years at law school, I joined Wilde Sapte, (now Denton Wilde Sapte) as a trainee solicitor, where I spent the next two years gaining a grounding in, inter alia, civil litigation, and company law. I might have remained there in banking litigation, had it not been for the recession in 1990, which saw 75% of newly qualified solicitors made redundant.


Redundancy came as a shock to the system. But it also led to the first of three major changes of direction in my career. In order to keep my bank manager happy and "the wolf from the door”, I took a job as a Crown Prosecutor. I had never practised any criminal law before and learned on the job, prosecuting cases from several of the more challenging areas of North London. It was steep learning curve, (as I could be Prosecuting a list of 30-40 criminal cases in the morning and then go on to deal with either trials or a road traffic list of up to 300 plus summonses in the afternoon.) However, it gave me a good grounding in criminal law and advocacy.


After two years, I became a Senior Crown Prosecutor, and a short time later, due to cutbacks in the Prosecution Service, I became the most senior casework lawyer in my team. This resulted in my handling serious cases involving, robbery, rape, child abuse and drugs cases arising from Police undercover operations against crack cocaine dealers.


After four years conducting general prosecutions, I knew that I was ready for a change. I therefore moved to Crown Prosecution Service Headquarters, in London, where I joined the Fraud Investigation Group. It was here that I laid the foundations for my current job, prosecuting fraud cases and advising police officers on evidential issues from the outset of their investigations.


What had initially appeared as an adversity, became a virtue, when after some seven years spent prosecuting, I was offered a job at Coopers & Lybrand, now PricewaterhouseCoopers in the Dispute Analysis and Investigations Department. This was the second major change of direction in my career, as it served to develop my skills as a fraud investigator. One job in particular taught me more about fraud investigations in six months than I could have learned over several years.  

In the early 1990’s the country of Albania fell victim to twenty fraudulent pyramid savings schemes. Some 90% of the population invested between 450 million and 1.2 Billion US$ in the schemes, which collapsed in 1997, leaving people destitute. The economy of the country collapsed and there was widespread civil unrest.


I was one of twelve persons from C&L appointed by the Albanian Government as Administrators for twelve of the pyramid savings schemes that had been put into administration, with the brief of carrying out a fraud investigation. The assignment was financed by the World Bank. My work involved identifying the extent of investment in each of the schemes, identifying and verifying title to assets held by the schemes and tracing funds invested in the schemes.  In the course of the assignment, I managed a team of five local consultants and travelled extensively in Albania with armed bodyguards, as well as carrying out investigations in Greece and Italy.


In 2000, following the merger of C&L to become PwC, I again faced upheaval, when I was made redundant, after having been with the company for just over two years. This led to the third of the major changes of direction in my career, as it resulted in my applying to the European Anti Fraud Office (OLAF) in Brussels for a position as a fraud investigator in May 2000.


Some 15 months later, I moved to Brussels, where I am now based, and joined OLAF. I have now been in Brussels for nearly nine years, during which time I have consolidated and developed my experience in conducting internal and external investigations into fraud, corruption and serious financial irregularities within the European Institutions, all over Europe and beyond. I have also spent nine months as part of a multi-agency task force in Kosovo investigating corruption. In addition to English, I am able to work in French and also speak some Spanish.


My top tips:

Languages - If you have an aptitude to do so, learn languages. These will be invaluable to you in your career. If possible, live in the country in which your chosen language is spoken. It is the best way to learn the language. 


Travel as widely as possible both in order to learn about other cultures and get a different perspective.


You will inevitably face changes in your life and career. When you undergo expected or unexpected changes, which knock you down, "pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again ! ” You may just surprise yourself !

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