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May 29 2019

Why Lyfting the lid on war criminals is Uber important!

Failing to include a quick and low-cost Global Watchlist Check within your pre-employment screening policy can damage your reputation. Just ask Uber, Lyft, or Dulles International Airport in Washington DC!

The incredible story of how a Somali war criminal managed to pass at least three background checks in the US, despite being deported from Canada for "serious human rights abuses", demonstrates the importance of including the right background checks in your employment screening programme. 

In 2016, when CNN sensationally revealed that an alleged Somali war criminal was working as a security guard at the tenth busiest airport in the United States (this video contains content that some viewers may find disturbing), it exposed a gaping hole in the airport’s screening process. Having passed the Airport Authority’s background check, Yusuf Abdi Ali was fired shortly after news broke about the brutalities he was alleged to have committed during his five years as a military commander in Somalia. During this time he was known as “Colonel Tukeh” (meaning “The Crow”) serving under former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre during a vicious civil war. He is accused by many Somali villagers of being responsible for multiple atrocities in the 1980s.

Last week, while standing trial in a civil lawsuit in Virginia, facing charges of torture and having been accused of crimes against humanity, another CNN exposé reported that Ali had been working full-time as a driver for ride-hailing firms for the last 18 months. Undercover filming by CNN revealed Ali proudly announcing how quick and easy it was to get through Uber and Lyft’s background check process in just a day or two.

The trial lasted a week, during which the defendant Farhan Mohamoud Tani Warfaa testified that Ali ordered his soldiers to torture and beat him before Ali shot him five times at point blank range in 1988. Warfaa testified that he only survived because he bribed the gravediggers to ransom him back to his family. The jury issued a split ruling, finding Ali guilty of torture but unable to unanimously conclude that Ali attempted to kill Warfaa extrajudicially.

Ali has been banned permanently from driving for both Uber and Lyft and ordered to pay Warfaa $500,000 in damages but escapes any prison sentence. This case took 15 years to get to court, but the law (Torture Victim Protections Act) only allows for financial compensation for claims involving events which took place outside of the US.

But how could Ali have sailed through so many background checks having lived in North America for the last three decades?

One answer is that many organisations place too much faith in criminal record checks alone, and fail to appreciate that criminal record checks are typically limited to the country of hire and overlook international equivalent checks. Another answer is that many firms fail to include a Global Watchlist Check in their screening policy.

A Global Watchlist Check, such as the one that Verifile offers, uses more than 40,000 data sources worldwide, including sanctions lists, law enforcement lists, financial regulators, Politically Exposed Person (PEP) databases, and global media sources. While admittedly the “hit rate” for such checks returns one of the lowest percentages of all background check types, when there is a result, it tends to be newsworthy, flagging fraudsters, terrorists, drug-smugglers, arms-dealers, as well as Politically Exposed Persons who would otherwise have gone undetected in the screening process, as Lyft, Uber and Dulles International Airport discovered.

It is highly unlikely that a Global Watchlist Check was included in either of the ride-hailing giants’ background check programmes. A review of the current content of both background screening policies indicates that both Uber and Lyft include nothing other than standard Driver Motor vehicle driving licence and criminal record checks. CNN’s original report also stated that Ali was able to pass the background checks at Dulles International Airport because he had faced no criminal charges in the United States.

However, perhaps the biggest take-home from this story is that whether or not any of Yusuf Abdi Ali’s former employers include a Global Watchlist Check as part of their screening programme, it would be more of a surprise if they had included one!

Unfortunately, many organisations worldwide do not consider this simple, low-cost check important enough to include it in their employment screening policy. This check is not even mandatory in most of the UK’s background screening standards for the various regulated industries either (although BS7858 security screening for the security sector at least makes this check a recommendation). 

Verifile’s Global Watchlist Report for Yusuf Abdi Ali reveals his four known aliases (including Colonel Tukeh); his status as a Tier 2 PEP due to his former role as Brigade Commander in the Somali National Army; links to several articles regarding his alleged previous conduct; as well as a recent photograph to assist confirming his identification.
Tukeh.jpg
 
It is important to stress that not all Global Watchlist Checks would necessarily have flagged Yusuf Abdi Ali, as many do not include PEPs, opting to charge extra for this additional dataset. But an effective Global Watchlist Check that includes Politically Exposed Persons is a vital tool in effective risk mitigation for employers. 

Can you afford not to include a Global Watchlist Check in your employment screening programme?

Contact Verifile for further details and discuss how our International Fraud and Sanctions Lists Check can improve your employment screening policies.