By Erika Kinetz
The email seemed unremarkable: a routine request by Mattel Inc.’s chief executive for a new vendor payment to China.
It was well-timed, arriving on Thursday, April 30, during a tumultuous period for the Los-Angeles based maker of Barbie dolls. Barbie was bombing, particularly overseas, and the CEO, Christopher Sinclair, had officially taken over only that month. Mattel had fired his predecessor.
The finance executive who got the note was naturally eager to please her new boss. She double-checked protocol. Fund transfers required approval from two high-ranking managers. She qualified and so did the CEO, according to a person familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter. He declined to reveal the finance executive’s name.
Satisfied, the executive wired over $3 million to the Bank of Wenzhou, in China.
Hours later, she mentioned the payment to Sinclair.
But he hadn’t made any such request.
Frantic, Mattel executives called their U.S. bank, the police and the FBI.
The response? You’re out of luck. The money’s already in China.
Mattel’s millions were swept up in a tide of dirty money that passes through China and that Western police are only beginning to understand. The scam the company fell victim to — known as the fake CEO or fake president scam — has cost companies, many of them American, more than $1.8 billion, according to the FBI. Most of the stolen money passes through banks in China or Hong Kong, the FBI said. Read more