Manuel Supervielle has long known that corruption is not a victimless crime.
The retired U.S. Army colonel and general counsel grew up hearing how his grandfather and namesake, Manuel Fernandez Supervielle, was driven to suicide in the late 1940s as mayor of Havana when he found he couldn’t fulfill his campaign promise to build an aqueduct because he refused to pay bribes to make it happen.
His grandfather’s example of dedication to public service and transparency encouraged Supervielle to pursue public service, too. When he found he couldn’t join the Peace Corps after high school without a college degree, Supervielle enlisted in the U.S. Army, which eventually granted him a scholarship to college. He later went on to law school and said he chose to remain in the army for the personal satisfaction, the team effort, camaraderie, sense of mission and opportunities. Suddenly, 27 years had passed.
Today, Supervielle, a founder of Veritas Assurance Partners, a global investigations and consulting practice, uses the experience and contacts he gleaned in the military representing the U.S. in 40 countries as a military lawyer. He now provides business advice to governments and multinational enterprises operating around the world, especially in Latin American and countries experiencing social instability and armed conflict. He also investigates fraud and corruption and resolves disagreements.
“When a U.S. or foreign company runs into a roadblock with some government official that is seeking to extort a bribe or make a payment to a judge basically do something that is contrary to their own law, then we get involved, do the investigation and then try to find a resolution by convincing the foreign government official to do what the law requires,” Supervielle said.
He convinces the person committing the crime that the cost of persisting in the illegal activity will be higher than the perceived financial benefit, he said. He also lets them know that persisting in the illegal conduct will expose the officials and their superiors, because the information will be provided to domestic enemies or opposition political parties. Such information may also go to the U.S. ambassador or local and international media, and in two occasions, to congress, he said.
In one instance, when a customs official in Afghanistan improperly demanded a U.S. government contractor pay $2 million in customs duties for equipment for U.S. troops, Supervielle investigated the official’s ethnic tribe alliances and social and political hierarchies and rivalries. Supervielle said in one meeting he persuaded the official to follow the law by pointing out which political rivals would find out he was doing something illegal.
Supervielle graduated from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and passed the Texas bar in 1982. When he graduated, he was a first lieutenant. He also was a third generation lawyer, albeit the first of his family to be a lawyer in the U.S. His father and grandfather had been lawyers in Cuba before his family immigrated to the U.S. when he was 4.
He worked for three years as a prosecutor and later as defense counsel in military courts-martial. He was stationed in Daegu, Korea, for two years with his family.
“It was a very Spartan existence for my wife and me,” Supervielle said. With an infant and two small children, it was difficult to adjust to Korean cuisine and a tiny commissary often without enough baby formula or diapers as a result of resales in the local black market. The experience made him recognize the impact of black markets and he chose to prosecute those cases when he came upon them.
Korea was a difficult two-year stint, but it helped him get a post in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he obtained a masters in military law, and later a post in Hawaii. There, he found a legal way for soldiers to help local law enforcement with drug interdiction. Instead of rappelling out of helicopters at random locations for training, soldiers practiced identifying marijuana plants, seized them, put them in cargo nets and lifted them away. Eventually, they dumped the big pile of plants into an active volcano.
In time, Supervielle became general counsel at U.S. Southern Command, where in late 2001 his superiors told him prisoners from the war in Afghanistan would be held in Guantanamo Bay. Supervielle was concerned about the unclear legal status of those prisoners, but he was told the prisoners were to be treated in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Convention. He then independently invited in the International Consortium of the Red Cross (ICRC), creating a stir among the military’s upper echelons and the White House legal staff.
“That was one time where I really thought, this is the right thing to do. Whatever happens, happens,” Supervielle said.
Not long after, Supervielle found himself on a plane to Cuba for an emotional first return to his birthplace with a team of angry top White House legal representatives to whom he had to explain why he had extended the invitation to the ICRC. He was told to stay behind when the others left to make sure nothing went awry.
Involving the ICRC turned out to be helpful in preparing accommodations for the prisoners, in part because it made the military aware of cultural differences they needed to consider. Within four years, Supervielle had been twice promoted to general counsel to U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, leading over 60 attorneys and paralegals, directly advising U.S. officials on classified intelligence and mediating controversies among Afghan officials, including detentions and combat deaths. He also personally briefed the Afghan president, minister, and other officials on legal and policy matters, securing new laws and policies.
After retiring from the military in 2008, Supervielle worked for two years at the business consulting firm Navigant before leaving with colleague Billy Marlin to start Miami-based Veritas Assurance Partners in 2010. Among other forms of work, the firm handles due diligence investigations, persuasion, financial investigations, asset searches, anti-money laundering, internal fraud, copyright infringement and foreign corrupt practices act-related work. Most clients are based in Washington, D.C., or abroad, he said. A lot of the work involves investigating vendors in foreign countries prior to or after a merger or acquisition, sometimes for other larger investigating companies.
At one point, Afghan officials called to hire him to represent Afghanistan in negotiating the country’s bilateral security agreement, which allows U.S. forces to operate there. After securing permission from the U.S. government to do the work without pay because of the emoluments clause, he went to Afghanistan to negotiate the agreement.
He took along his youngest daughter, who by then was the fourth generation of Supervielles to have become a lawyer. As they discussed the agreement, she typed it out. In exchange for her work, she got an Afghan rug and resume material, he said.
Born: 1956, Havana, Cuba
Spouse: Maria Carolina Obarrio Supervielle
Children: Christine, Joseph and Angela
Education: National War College, master’s degree, 2004; University of Miami, Ll.M, 1993; University of Texas at Austin, J.D. 1981; St. Mary’s University, B.A., 1978
Experience: Co-founder, Veritas Assurance Partners, 2010-present; Director, Navigant Consulting, 2008-2010; Counsel, U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, 1974 -2008