Oxebridge has escalated a complaint against the ISO registrar Quality Austria to its accreditation body, Akkreditierung Austria, after the certification body failed to properly respond to two prior complaints. Oxebridge is requesting that, given the seriousness of the allegations, Quality Austria’s accreditation be temporarily suspended by Akkreditierung Austria until the complaint investigation is complete.
The escalated action comes after Oxebridge filed two formal complaints with Quality Austria alleging a ten-year scam in which Quality Austria employees in Doha Qatar simultaneously operated a consulting firm, Qatar Quality Plus, and provided clients that were later certified by Qualtiy Austria. The registrar went so far as to issue the consulting firm itself an ISO 9001 certificate, ignoring the conflicts of interest.
As many as four of the Qatar consultants simultaneously hold positions in Quality Austria, leading its Qatar offices under the division name “Quality Austria Gulf.” Despite the high-profile complaint and formal filing to Quality Austria, all four appear to continue to hold roles in both companies, and have not been disciplined.
Some 100 companies may have been impacted, as evidence showed the Qatar office tracking its success rate in converting Qatar Quality Plus clients into Quality Austria clients. In at least one case, the Qatar consultancy issued a formal proposal that included pricing and details of certification audits on behalf of Quality Austria.
Such conflicts of interest between consultancies and certification bodies are prohibited by ISO 17021-1, the standard under which Quality Austria is accredited.
Raising more serious concerns, Oxebridge discovered that officials from both Quality Austria Vienna and Akkreditierung Austria conducted a “witness audit” of the Qatar office and did not suspend the office’s activities. Multiple witnesses claim that the representatives were given “five star vacations,” in the hopes that the audit results would be favorable. A representative of Akkreditierung Austria, Adolf Kerbl, had the vacation expenses paid for a “female companion” who had no role in the audit. This raises questions of ethical lapses, if not outright illegal actions.
Both Quality Austria and Akkreditierung Austria had cut off all communications regarding the issue, prompting the escalation. If Akkreditierung Austria does not fulfill its obligations in conducting the investigation, it may be in violation of both Austrian Law and European Union regulations, under EC No 765/2008.
Quality Austria closed the original complaints without any explanation. The email indicating this was signed by Quality Austria’s VP of Business Development, who was also involved in the witness audit alongside Kerbl. He did not disclose his conflict of interest nor recuse himself, worsening matters for Qualtiy Austria.
The massive 13-page escalation action alleges Quality Austria violated 18 separate ISO 17021-1 clauses. The majority of these involve its inability to manage conflicts of interest, issuing certificates to dozens of companies that received consulting by its own employees, and then a refusal to provide any details regarding closure of the complaint.
One of the Quality Austria clients impacted is the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority; Oxebridge argues that their resulting certification is invalid, and that this puts the safety of the flying public at risk.
Oxebridge is working the issue with the Austrian Ministry of Digital and Economic Affairs, who oversees Akkreditierung Austria, to understand if any criminal actions occurred which must be prosecuted. Oxebridge is also working with official in Qatar regarding the scandal.
Quality Austria has cut off all communication with Oxebridge and has refused to provide any further information. The Quality Austria Gulf office continues to operate, as does the consulting firm and its employees.
IQNet, a consortium of certification bodies, is also implicated, in that the certificates issued by Quality Austria to the conflicted clients included the IQNet logo. To date, IQNet has also refused to respond to the issue, and Oxebridge is investigating what actions can be taken against that body, as well.