Los-Angeles-based Thoughtful Media Group (TMG), an influencer-based branding company, has dismissed three members of its senior management team in Asia and has initiated a lawsuit against them in the US on allegations of fraud, embezzlement, breach of contract and breach of duty, among other complaints.
Mark Ingrouille, TMG's president of international operations, Le Ngoc Linh, TMG's Vietnam CFO and general manager along with Tran Trung Kien, the managing director of Vietnam were all dismissed from the company on 26 March, according to a company statement.
On 19 April, TMG filed a lawsuit against the three individuals in the US District Court in Los Angeles accusing them of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, embezzlement, conversion, interference with contractual relations, interference with economic advantage and unfair business practices.
In an email to Campaign Asia, Ingrouille, who is based in the UK and worked as a consultant for TMG, refuted the allegations. "It's bollocks. Certainly as regards myself," he wrote, adding it was "grotesque" and "surreal" to see himself described in association with TMG's allegations.
Dan Thorman, TMG's CEO, told Campaign that the alleged impropriety came to light following an audit concerning copyright and YouTube usage in Vietnam and Thailand. He said TMG began "observing content and Vietnam staff anomalies" in early 2017, but noted that the investigation led to the discovery of "bigger issues" not directly linked to the YouTube platform. He stressed that the matter centred on Vietnam, and that YouTube had been supportive throughout the investigation.
The complaint filed in the US Court on behalf of TMG claims that the defendants "embarked on a multi-faceted conspiracy to undermine and usurp TMG's business interests in Thailand and Vietnam". This included sharing confidential information with third parties, planning to collaborate with those parties to compete with TMG, creating fake vendors and invoices, and embezzling and converting company funds and other assets.
TMG said it was "stunned and outraged to learn the three members of its senior management team in Asia had "engaged in conduct that was at irreconcilable odds with our unconditional principles of integrity, honesty and transparency". According to the complaint filed in the US Court, the defendants have "refused to return company funds, assets and property, and continue to plot against the company".
The alleged incident is not the first time that TMG has experienced difficulties in Vietnam. Shortly after the office was set up in 2016, the company dismissed its managing director for fraudulent activity. Thorman referred to that incident as "basic skimming" and said it was typical of the corruption that continues to plague the business environment in Vietnam.
"Corruption is a huge issue" in the market, Thorman said. He contrasted it with China, which has taken aggressive measures to crack down on shady business practices in recent years. "From a business angle, the Vietnamese government really needs to step up its game and cooperate in getting rid of this kind of corruption."
Thorman said TMG was now weighing its options in the market. In addition to Vietnam and Thailand, the company's Asian presence includes China and the Philippines.
FULL STATEMENT FROM TMG
Since the inception of TMG, an unconditional principle of integrity has been a core value as we grew our business globally. Our commitment to clients begins and ends with honesty and transparency, and strict adherence to these values is the absolute cornerstone of our business operations and practices.
One goal of that guiding principle has always been to support true content creators and online talent. We were therefore stunned to learn, in the course of several simultaneous internal investigations and audits, including our copyright and YouTube policy audit in Vietnam, that some members of our Vietnam office had circumvented this guiding policy.
We were equally as stunned and outraged to learn in the course of our investigation that three
Immediately upon learning of facts that suggested improper behavior, we commenced an internal investigation led by CEO Dan Thorman. That investigation has uncovered strong evidence that these individuals engaged in extensive actions directly opposed to the best interests of TMG and in derogation of their duties to our company.
We were therefore forced to take immediate remedial measures to ensure the protection and ongoing viability of our Company, starting with the March 26, 2018 termination of all three executives from their engagement with our Company for cause. A federal lawsuit against these individuals was also filed in the United States District Court in Los Angeles on April 19, 2018.
We are confident that by addressing and eliminating this activity swiftly and aggressively, we will be able to preserve and foster the goodwill and positive business reputation we have strived to develop with our customers, vendors and business colleagues, so that TMG can continue to provide the outstanding services it had proudly delivered in the Southeast Asian market place for many years to come.
We are continually looking to improve our service on behalf of our legitimate creators, their fans, and our advertising clients seeking brand safety. The good news is that TMG will emerge from these audits, and the changes that they prompted, stronger and more ready for the future than ever.
Editor's note: This story was updated on April 24, 2018 at 10:00 to include a response from TMG's former president of international operations.