Private eye probes shadowy world of crime

Discretion is the hallmark of private eye Phillip Ryffel

Investigating fraud, adultery and child abduction is all part of a day’s work for Zurich-based private detective Philip Ryffel.

This content was published on April 18, 2004 minutes

Discretion is the watchword of the current president of the World Investigators Network who often has to operate on the fringes of the law.

But Ryffel says the everyday work of a private investigator - mainly dealing with white-collar crime, such as tax fraud and illegal assets - is less exciting than novels or television would have us believe.

“The myth and the reality are far apart. In real life we spend much longer on surveillance than our television colleagues do,” Ryffel told swissinfo.

Administration takes up much more time than people would expect, he says, adding that 80 to 90 per cent of his job is done at his desk.

“I’m not the classic private detective from television,” Ryffel said. “I am not a lone fighter.”

Love and money

Ryffel says his assignments are “usually to do with money”. He pursues debtors abroad, investigates money flows, checks whether defaulters are really unable to pay their bills and investigates inheritance issues.

Sometimes his office gets an assignment to look for kidnapped children. “In these cases we work closely with the authorities,” he said.

“Where countries are not signatories to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children, the authorities have no chance of getting children back.”

In countries such as Iran, Tunisia and Brazil – which have not signed the Hague Convention - hiring a private detective can be the only way of finding missing children.

Around a third of all the cases Ryffel handles are to do with extramarital affairs. But nowadays there is less call for a private detective to shadow unfaithful husbands or wives.

“It used to be important to know who committed adultery for divorce purposes, but that has changed now,” Ryffel said.

International network

Ryffel’s business is one of around 400 private detective agencies in more than 100 countries that are affiliated to the World Investigators Network (WIN).

“The association was set up to facilitate international investigations,” explained Ryffel, who is this year’s head of WIN.

“Combined with the latest communication tools the association enables private detectives to complete their investigations more quickly.”

For instance, if a job comes up in Siberia or Moscow, Ryffel says he can ask an association member there to carry out preliminary investigations.

Dangerous job

The 36-year-old investigator does not consider his job particularly dangerous, even though there have been times during his ten years as a private detective when he found himself at risk.

He owns a gun, but hardly ever carries it.

Ryffel says that owing to strict data protection laws, the kind of work he does has changed in recent years.

“The biggest challenge for a private detective nowadays is getting legal access to information that is difficult to get due to data protection.”

“There are various databases that hold certain information, but it is important to know how to get to it,” he continued.

Ryffel, who looks more like an accountant than a private eye, describes himself as a service provider who can make a difference.

“I am an investigator. I don’t snoop around in other people’s business – I only want to find things out and solve cases.”

swissinfo, Gaby Ochsenbein in Zurich

Key facts

Philip Ryffel opened his first detective agency in 1995.
Now he has two offices, one in Zurich and one in Zug, and employs ten people.
Since September 2003 he has been president of the World Investigators Network, which has 400 members in 100 countries.
In 1998, Ryffel was named Investigator of the Year.

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