New details have come forth from multiple first-hand witnesses revealing troubling concerns over the accreditation of ISO 9001 certification body Quality Austria and its decade-long conflict of interest with a consulting body operated by its own employees in Qatar. The evidence proves that Quality Austria was knowingly providing certification in Qatar to clients of a consulting firm operated by its own employees. Furthermore, the accreditation body Akkreditierung Austria is now implicated, along with as many as 100 Qatar-based companies, including the official Civil Aviation Authority of Qatar.
Previously, Oxebridge reported that Quality Austria had issued an ISO 9001 certificate to an ISO consulting firm, Qatar Quality Plus in Doha. That firm is owned by Linda Ross and Zeljko Cvjetinovic, a husband-and-wife team who simultaneously work for Quality Austria Gulf, the Qatar regional office for Quality Austria itself. It was later found that a third employee, Prabath de Silva, also worked for both companies. Not only did Quality Austria grant the consulting firm an ISO 9001 certificate, it then certified a number of clients of Qatar Quality Plus, as well, in violation of ISO 17021 rules against conflicts of interest. This means that in some cases, Ms. Ross could well be issuing a certificate to either her own company, to her own clients, or even to herself, in violation of accreditation rules under ISO 17021.
Oxebridge filed a complaint, which was answered by Quality Austria’s VP of Business Development, Eckehard Bauer. In that response, Quality Austria did not provide any indication of how they ruled on the complaint, but merely said it was closed; they provided no explanation or evidence, and have since cut off all communication with Oxebridge on the matter. Mr. Bauer, meanwhile, has blocked Oxebridge on LinkedIn in order to prevent any questions from being sent to him.
Quality Austria’s accreditation body, Akkreditierung Austria, has also remained silent on the matter and not responded to emails, raising suspicions as to their role in the scandal.
The IAF has also remained silent, despite being updated with details throughout the unfolding story.
Quality Austria pays fees to Akkreditierung Austria, who then pays fees to the IAF, creating a pyramid that results in those with the most authority of oversight having the least incentive to enforce the rules, since they have the most money to lose if they do.
New Evidence Emerges
In the past week, however, new information has come in from of sources in Qatar with firsthand knowledge of the Quality Austria Gulf operation, some of which implicates Quality Austria’s Vienna headquarters in the scandal, as well as the accreditation body Akkreditierung Austria.
In 2014 Quality Austria sent Eckehard Bauer, its VP of Business Development, and a representative from Akkreditierung Austria to conduct a witness audit of the Gulf office. Quality Austria Gulf maintained its accreditation status, so it is assumed that they found no issues regarding conflicts of interest, despite the fact that the dual roles of Ms. Ross and the other Qatar Quality Plus employees were well known to all the parties.
Multiple sources now report to Oxebridge that Ms. Ross paid for a “five-star vacation” for Mr. Bauer as well as for Adolf Kerbl, the industry representative sent to represent Akkreditierung Austria. Multiple witnesses said that Mr. Kerbl brought a female companion whose travel and vacation was also paid for by Ms. Ross, even though she had allegedly no role in the witness audit. Oxebridge has not been able to verify this yet with financial records, but the same account was verified through three different sources, each with knowledge of the events.
Mr. Kerbl has not responded to requests for clarification on his role in the audit, nor that of the woman who accompanied him.
If it is proven that Mr.Bauer and Mr. Kerbl received “in kind” payments to fund vacations in exchange for accreditation witness audits that overlooked the ISO 17021 violations, this may have violated Austrian laws that govern the activities of Akkreditierung Austria. Ironically, Bauer cited those laws in his brief response to the Oxebridge complaint.
Oxebridge has since learned that a fourth employee of Qatar Quality Plus also works for Quality Austria: Rajiv Fernando, the brother of Ms. Ross. Furthermore, the various relations between the employees and their simultaneous roles in both companies were known to Mr. Bauer for years, who nevertheless did not disclose this information in his response to the Oxebridge complaint.
Oxebridge has also obtained a proposal prepared by Linda Ross for a Qatar company in which she provided simultaneous quoting for both Qatar Quality Plus and Quality Austria, while using the logos of both companies alongside those of IQNet and EFQM.
ISO 17021 prohibits an accredited CB from using a single consultancy to market its services, arguing that presents an insurmountable conflict of interest, since the CB is thus unlikely to “fail” the consultancy’s client, no matter how bad their systems are.
Dozens of Companies Infected
In addition, Oxebridge has obtained documents proving that in the early 2010’s, Ms. Ross was tracking 70 other Qatar-based companies, and actively working to transition them to Quality Austria clients as well. In many of these cases, Ms. Ross herself was listed as the consultant responsible for preparation of system documentation or internal auditor, even as Quality Austria issued the companies ISO certificates thereafter. More recently, Qatar Quality Plus was tracking additional companies, bringing the approximate total well over 100.
Ms. Ross was also pursuing dozens more as potential clients of both companies, and it’s not clear how many of those were eventually transitioned into QQP/QA clients.
Through an initial first-pass search, Oxebridge was able to confirm the following organizations all used the services of Ms. Ross and were then certified by Quality Austria, in violation of ISO 17021:
- Apollo Industrial Services
- Darwish Technology
- Doha Extraco
- Generic Engineering Technologies
- Gulf Tunneling Company
- JBK Controls
- Jefferson Contracting
- Khalid Scientific
- Lotus Trading & Contracting
- Oriental Enterprises
- Pioneer Contracting & Trading
- Qatar Building Company
- Qatar Civil Aviation Authority
- Qatar Logistics
- Qatar UPVC
- Shaqab Abela Catering
- Torishima Pumps
This list is not intended to be comprehensive, and is limited by the search features of IQNet and Quality Austria’s online databases; it’s expected that many more Qatar Quality Plus companies were certified by Quality Austria.
Oxebridge is demanding that any such companies be forcibly transitioned to another CB, and undergo new audits to confirm their conformity to the applicable ISO standards, at Quality Austria’s expense.
Qatar Civil Aviation Authority Implicated
Most troubling, the list of implicated companies includes the official Civil Aviation Authority of Qatar, specifically its Meteorology Division. The fact that government agencies in Qatar were utilizing Ms. Ross’s conflicted services is troubling, especially since this introduces risk to the flying public.
In addition to the Meteorology Department, Ms. Ross least pursuing an add-on contract with the CAA’s Air Navigation department, responsible for civilian air traffic control in Qatar. It’s not clear if Ms. Ross’ company ever performed any consulting for for Air Navigation.
Representatives of the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority have been contacted for comment, but did not respond at press time.
Linda Ross remains at the center of the scandal, having operated both Qatar Quality Plus and Quality Austria Gulf for over a decade, utilizing family members to bolster her employee count.
The documents received by Oxebridge list Ms. Ross as having personally worked on the QMS documents and procedures which were later certified by Quality Austria. In other cases, systems were implemented by her brother, Rajiv Fernando, who is also listed by Quality Austria as one of their auditors.
One source indicated that Ms. Ross was famous for her “30 minute” ISO audits, performed on behalf of Quality Austria, since she was auditing her own work. If this is true, then Quality Austria would have violated IAF accreditation rules for minimum audit duration dozens of times.
Ross began her professional career as a Telemarketing Manager for Bush Betta Wild Life Adventures Clubs & Resorts in India, and later took a position as a telemarketing sales coordinator for a firm connected to Tata. She appears to have implemented her first ISO 9001 system in 2000 for the Image Institute of Multimedia, where she worked as an HR Counselor.
In the early 2000’s, Ms. Ross worked for the hotel company Darwish Group, and claims to have implemented ISO 9002 there, although the standard would have already been obsolete by then. In 2003, she launched her consulting career, taking the name Qatar Quality Plus in 2007.
Ms. Ross appears to have begun work for Quality Austria a few years later, or roughly at the same time.
Ms. Ross claims a stunning list of qualifications, none of which could be verified, including expertise as a “qualified lead auditor” for ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 22000, ISO 29001, ISO 31000, SA 8000 and food safety certifications. Ms. Ross claims to hold — or have held — IRCA certification, but is currently not listed in the IRCA database of certified auditors. Oxebridge could neither confirm her degree from an Indian university listed on her resume, but only because the University does not maintain accurate records of alumni.
Despite the conflict of interest in working simultaneously for a consulting firm and certification body, Ms. Ross has been brazen in advertising her roles in both companies. Her name appears on multiple public websites and documents published by Qatar Quality Plus and Quality Austria. Using her married name “Linda Cvjetinovic,” she openly marketed her dual roles on her public LinkedIn profile. One source told Oxebridge, “Linda doesn’t care because she sees herself as so powerful, no one can hurt her.”
Even ASQ was aware of the conflict of interest related to Ms. Ross, and did nothing; ASQ’s Qatar Division announced both Qatar Quality Plus and Quality Austria as “Bronze Sponsors” of the division. ASQ would have been aware of this arrangement since both payments would have been made by Ms. Ross, and yet ASQ did not flag the conflict with ISO or Quality Austria. The website for the ASQ Qatar Division includes only two corporate logos under “sponsors,” those being for Qatar Quality Plus and Quality Austria.
It was reported that Ms. Ross is a powerful figure in the Doha Qatar business community, and has connections with influential business people in the region, allowing her unprecedented influence. Ingratiating herself with ASQ likely helped divert attention from the conflicts of interest inherent in her activities.
Oversight Bodies Go Silent
Despite the evidence provided to it by Oxebridge, Quality Austria has not shut down the Qatar office, nor has Akkreditierung Austria suspended Quality Austria’s accreditation to date. Given the severity of the issue, and the fact that the scandal goes back at least a decade and has affected more than 100 companies, a suspension is the least Akkreditierung Austria could do; Quality Austria would likely face full de-accreditation if Akkreditierung Austria enforced the rules properly.
If so, however, then Quality Austria would no longer be obligated to pay fees to Akkreditierung Austria; since Akkreditierung Austria only lists nine management system certification bodies in its stable, losing Quality Austria would represent a crippling hit to its annual revenue.
Because Akkreditierung Austria is subject to Austrian law, however, it may not matter: the body may be forced to de-list Quality Austria no matter what, or risk losing protections it currently enjoys from the Austrian government.
For now, however, neither Quality Austria nor Akkreditierung Austria have provided any explanation at all — credible or otherwise — as to how they allowed the Vienna office to issue an ISO 9001 certificate to Ms. Ross’ company, and then to dozens of her consulting clients. Both bodies appear to be attempting to bury the issue by remaining silent.
An unconfirmed report indicated that Quality Austria was already reported for this conflict of interest years ago, but that no action was taken at that time, either. It’s not clear who that complaint was filed with. If so, however, it means the Oxebridge complaint is not the first, and that both Quality Austria and Akkreditierung Austria will have records of the prior complaint in their files. Austrian regulators will likely want to see those files, to know if the bodies covered up prior reports of the scandal.
So far, the only response to the Oxebridge complaint has been that Qatar Quality Plus removed photos from its website that showed clients of the consultancy receiving ISO 9001 certificates from Quality Austria, making it appear that the parties are trying to eliminate evidence. Oxebridge has retained copies of the photos, however.
Oxebridge is preparing to escalate the issue directly to Akkreditierung Austria, although the move will largely be procedural, since the accreditation body is now implicated in the scandal. After that, the Regional Accreditation Group APAC would be required to investigate, putting Akkreditierung Austria’s status as an accreditation body at risk.
Because APAC and the IAF have traditionally been absent on enforcing accreditation rules, Oxebridge is now in contact with regulatory and law enforcement authorities in both Austria and Qatar to see if any laws were violated, and how they may be prosecuted. Oxebridge is also in discussions with the Austrian government agencies who oversee Akkreditierung Austria’s status, to force an independent government investigation; Oxebridge has also contacted the Qatar Ministry of Commerce and Industry to request an oversight investigation in Qatar.
Oxebridge believes the problem with Quality Austria may not be limited to Qatar, given that its international VP of Business Development is implicated. If similar problems are found with other Quality Austria clients in other countries, the certification body could face permanent closure.