Meet Devan - a proud Malaysian and international spy. Right now, you're either imagining a man in sunglasses and khaki trench coat surreptitiously snapping away at a cheating spouse or a suave James Bond-like character asking for his martini shaken, not stirred. The truth lies somewhere in between.
Whilst it's true that matrimonial investigations form a part of Devan's work, this international man of mystery handles investigations on a global scale, and operates from bases in Kuala Lumpur and California.
"As an investigator, we cannot run away from matrimonial cases. I handle the high-profile ones and, luckily, such cases only eat away about 5 per cent of my time. (My) corporate clients will ask me for a drink and say 'I found some disturbing text messages on my spouse's handphone. I need some investigation.'"
Highly sought after by multi-nationals to protect their corporate interests, the cases Devan investigates are challenging and often delicate in nature.
"Corporate sabotage - on the scale of ruining a Third World country - really does exist. The threats are real.
"Companies want to protect their multi-million dollar businesses from sabotage by competitors, disgruntled ex-employees or even another country. Investigations that involve intellectual property, corporate espionage, political intelligence and even financial terrorism often require an extensive co-ordination of surveillance, intelligence gathering and sting operations," explains Devan, 38.
Furthermore, due to globalisation and the widespread deregulation of the global trade and financial systems, the contemporary criminal has become infinitely more insidious. Organised crime, money-laundering, human-trafficking and fraud have become transnational in nature, with the terrible consequences of these crimes now having far-reaching effects. And with today's world also moving steadily into fintech (technological innovations in the financial sector), Devan has had to adapt to these advancements in technology, and quickly too.
KIDNAPPINGS AND CRYPTOCURRENCY
He tells me that he has noticed something interesting. "Due to the Internet revolution, ransoms for kidnappings (are) no longer paid using large sums of paper currency. My team and I often handle cases that see cryptocurrency as the choice of payment by the perpetrators. Same goes for terrorism-related funding. The funnelling of cryptocurrency through shell companies has become commonplace."
Still, Devan is quick to point out that although we now live in a digital world, "many of our dirtiest secrets are still hidden the old-fashioned way - on paper. This is why people like us exist - to investigate all avenues and allow our clients to make informed decisions."
When asked what a "normal" day at the office is like, Devan laughs. "My world revolves around 60 per cent field operations and 40 per cent desk work. Field operations can include extensive hours of surveillance, and often involve travelling to five countries in four days. An undercover operation can even span six months where we have zero contact with our safe house."
MASTER OF DISGUISE
Working undercover has taught Devan to become a master of disguise. "I have been everything, from a homeless wanderer on the cold streets of Chicago to a marine engineer and even a florist! As private investigators, we must be ready to (adapt to) any scenario."
This is the job he started with, and the only one he has ever had for the past 20 years. Says Devan, "I am a very good investigator but a lousy businessman. I could have extended my business in other forays but I really enjoy what I'm doing and I am planning to do this for a long time. It allows me to see the world from the lense of crooks, real corporate mafia problems, and how directly and indirectly it affects ordinary citizens."
From the stories he regales me with, his dedication to the job is indisputable.
"The cases which give me the most satisfaction involve the reuniting of a parent and child. Often, one parent will win custody of their child in court, but the battle is just beginning. I've seen the losing party try to hide the child by changing their school, refusing all forms of contact and even moving to a different country. When I am finally able find the child and return them to their rightful parent, the happiness of all concerned is fantastic."
Another crucial aspect of being an international private investigator is having a wide and trusted network of sources. As Devan explains, "I have been in this industry for close to two decades and know that if I do not cultivate the trust of reliable individuals, I am a dead man walking. I have had cases in the United States where criminals have threatened the lives of myself and my family. In situations like this, I need to rely on my trusted inner circle for protection."
As to whether there are parts of his profession that he dislikes, Devan replies quite frankly, "Desk jobs are challenging for the mind. Money trails are getting harder to detect. Still, these aspects of the job are important to cracking a case and at least do not involve the toxic emotions associated with matrimonial disputes!"
Through his countless investigations, Devan has learned some valuable life lessons. "Having worked on many corporate cases, I can safely say that I have seen the root of all evil - money. For instance, certain pharmaceutical companies have fabricated scientific journals in order to increase their product sales even though they are fully aware of the cancer-causing substances contained within. I've seen political manipulation, systematic hacking and character assassination carried out by unscrupulous people. I've even witnessed secret agents being planted in phone companies to steal (a competitor's) latest technologies before the patents can be legally obtained. Unfortunately, the world revolves around money."
Still, there is no other profession that Devan would rather be in. "Individuals looking to break into the industry should be resourceful, brave (in case you need to fight off criminals in a dark alley) and possess a genuine interest for investigation like I do."
Finally, I ask him the burning question on my mind: Is it just like in the movies?
Devan chuckles. "Yes, it is! Minus the bomb threats, car chases and pretty girls!"