I once took a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on the Hague's international courts. So I know that there is investigation of international crime. I didn't know anything about U.N. investigation of fraudulent misuse of U.N. funds. It certainly makes sense that they would investigate if they received a report of possible fraud. A brief search confirmed that there are such investigators.
Author Michael Niemann has been writing a thriller series about the cases of fictional U.N. fraud investigator Valentin Vermeulen. Publicist Wiley Saichek asked me to review Illegal Holdings, the third novel in this series which takes place in Mozambique. This sounded like an unusual focus for a thriller, so I accepted a free copy from the publisher via Wiley Saichek.
Vermeulen had been sent to Mozambique to determine whether a non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization) had fraudulently misappropriated $5 million of the U.N.'s funds. This sounds like a routine case that is unlikely to generate much suspense. Yet someone who has committed $5 million worth of fraud would be willing to do some pretty awful things to cover his or her tracks.
There also turns out to be some underlying motivations for the fraud that involve agricultural and land use policy which are controversial and have tremendous impact. Which is the best way to feed the world? Should farming be family based and small scale with a large variety of crops, or should farms be large industrial single crop operations? What happens when large corporations who are mainly concerned with their bottom line are pitted against the interests of local communities? This is the central conflict in Illegal Holdings.
I admired Vermeulen for his commitment to justice and his willingness to take risks on behalf of marginalized people who need someone to advocate for them. I also very much liked his relationship with investigative journalist Tessa Bishonga whose work overlapped with Vermeulen's and helped to bring about a successful resolution of the case.
Since I believe that the issues that Vermeulen faces in Illegal Holdings are crucial ones that will decide the future of humanity as a whole, I was very much invested in this story line. I considered the underlying conspiracy behind these events completely believable and extremely chilling. Michael Niemann has written an immensely powerful thriller. I can't imagine what he'll do for an encore in his next Vermeulen book.