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Elizabeth Law
Saturday, Nov 1, 2014

Singapore

President of Council of International Investigators following in dad's footsteps

The New Paper | Elizabeth Law | Saturday, Nov 1, 2014

Ms Sheila Ponnosamy.

She is one of a few women working in private investigation here.

And on Sept 1, she was elected president of the Council of International Investigators (CII), a US-based organisation with more than 300 members from some 50 countries.

This makes Ms Sheila Ponnosamy the first Asian woman elected as president of the CII.

The 43-year-old operations director of investigations firm Mainguard International said she had never intended to join the industry, but when she had a taste of it, she was hooked.

Most of Mainguard International's work comes from corporate clients and involves checking up on due diligence and compliance issues. It has a sister company specialising in security.

Ms Ponnosamy is following in her father's footsteps. Her father, the well-known Singaporean investigator and security expert Ponnosamy Kalastree, was president of the CII in 2001.

After graduating with a master's degree in business administration from Australia's Edith Cowan University, Ms Ponnosamy was a conference producer in Australia for almost a decade before she thought of returning to Singapore.

She said: "Dad asked me to join him and I thought, why not? So I started working in the various departments until I once helped him with writing a report."

The report was for a case where Mr Kalastree had to keep tabs on a Japanese woman in Bali, Indonesia, for three months.

She said: "The case was so fascinating that I stayed up all night in our old office reading all the various details. I only took short naps... in the office."

AWARD

The case won Mr Kalastree CII's International Investigator of the Year Award in 1998, an award his daughter won in 2010.

From then on, Ms Ponnosamy was hooked and her father gave her more cases to work on. Much of her learning, she said, was on the job, but she also tried to attend courses and seminars whenever possible.

In 2012, she was elected to the CII's executive board, where she chaired the public relations committee, a job she was well-suited for, said those who know her.

Investigator Muhammad Shah Islam of Portcullis International, who has worked with Ms Ponnosamy on several cases, said she has "excellent social and networking skills".

He added that in the local male-dominated investigations industry, it is rare for a woman to stand out.

When told what her counterparts said, Ms Ponnosamy gave a modest laugh and said: "When given a task, I always have to complete it because I'm not one of those who can sit around doing nothing. Some people say I'm a workaholic, but I enjoy what I do so much that it doesn't feel like work."

For her work in the committee, she was given the Meritorious Service Award this year.

A married mother, she declined to reveal more about her family.

For now, she shuttles between Singapore and Perth, Australia, where Mainguard also has operations.

Asked about her father leaving big shoes to fill, she paused for a moment and said: "I try not to stress myself out over filling his shoes."

I enjoy what I do so much that it doesn't feel like work. - Ms Sheila Ponnosamy

Notable cases

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN TRAFFICKING

A woman with dual US and French citizenship disappeared from a health-care facility in France.

Her American mother had been trying to track her down for about 10 years, but to no avail. The only information she had was that her daughter had left with an Egyptian man.

In 2009, Ms Ponnosamy was asked to help when American investigators traced her to Malaysia.

Investigators observed her to seemingly be in good health though emotionally unstable. When approached, she would turn aggressive.

After extensive investigations, Ms Ponnosamy decided to write the man a letter asking him to release the woman. He did, and put her on a flight back to New York.

For this case, Ms Ponnosamy was awarded the CII's International Investigator of The Year Award in 2010.

LEANDRA RAMM

The US singer-actress had been cyberstalked for six years by Singaporean Colin Mak, who sent her threatening e-mails.

Ms Ponnosamy and her father were hired by Ms Ramm to try and locate Mak here.

They did, after two years. But they were told by Singapore police that it was a case of "intentional harassment" and Ms Ramm was advised to file a magistrate's complaint.

Ms Ramm eventually hired a certified data forensic examiner in the US and he got the Federal Bureau of Investigation to seek the assistance of the police here.

Singapore police arrested and charged Mak later in 2011. Last December, he was jailed for three years on 14 counts of criminal intimidation.

Ms Ponnosamy said this case stood out because it was the first known successful prosecution of an international cyberstalker

lawsm@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Oct 30, 2014.
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