Until a few years ago, ANAB enjoyed its role as the United States’ sole accreditation body for the ISO 9001 and other accreditation schemes. Then two additional bodies popped up on the scene: the International Accreditation Service (IAS) and the United Accreditation Forum (UAF). Yes, both those company names are merely one letter off from the name of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) which oversees the entire world’s accreditation scheme. You can decide if that’s an accident or not.

The IAS (with an “s”) is currently under scrutiny and facing a major complaint against it for coming out with the — let’s call it what it is — crazy interpretation that the ISO 17021-1 rules don’t apply until after either a client signs a contract with a CB or — even more insane — after a certificate is issued. The IAS would negate the entirety of the accreditation rules with that position, making accreditation wholly worthless with the stroke of a pen.

The IAS is an Indian-owned accreditation body that uses its Brea California address to market itself in India and the Middle East as an “American” accreditation body. Fair enough, and at least they have a real address and real people you can talk to, with photos on their website and everything.

The UAF (with a “u”) is by far more paranoid. Founded by a medical doctor — Dr. Tejwant Singh Chandi of Elizabeth City NC — the UAF appeared on the scene in 2016, and again worked hard to market itself as a US-based accreditation body serving a largely foreign customer base. That’s where things stop just being dubious, and start getting outright weird.

First, UAF is registered in Delaware, of course, despite having an owner who lives in North Carolina and an “office” in nearby Norfolk VA. Delaware is an attractive place to register a business because of unique laws in that state that protect organization owners from certain litigation and tax issues.

Next, the question is… why an accreditation body? Dr. Chandi does not appear to have any experience in the accreditation space, although he appears to have gotten an initial interest in the field by way of medical laboratory imaging certifications, under ISO 15189. Someone probably then told him there’s more money to be had in ISO 9001, so it was an easy jump if he was already pursuing accreditations in the medical space.

But immediately, the UAF went in a direction that can only be described as … suspicious. The domain name “uafaccreditation.org” was obtained in 2014, registered through GoDaddy, so there’s no actual name attached to it, and they invoked the domain privacy options. The website launched in earnest some time in 2016, presumably once the business was underway in earnest.

According to Internet Archive listings, the 2016 version of that site included a “Board of Directors” page, but either with names of people whose identities appear to have been intentionally obfuscated.  Alongside Dr. Chandi is one “Timethy James” — notice the unusual spelling of the first name — who was allegedly a graduate of Anoka-Ramsey Community College. A “Timothy James” (proper spelling) does exist, and the only online records for him list him as a “mechanic” decades earlier. All attempts to contact him have failed, as if he simply disappeared.

Then there is one “Aleksandra L”, an entirely untraceable person since no last name is given for her. UAF claimed she had a university degree, but didn’t list the university or any actual prior employers. We can assume she’s not real.

Next was “C  Komal,” another partial name, making it impossible to verify her actual existence. It’s likely Ms. Komal exists, though, since she was listed as a “Practice Manager in a Medical Laboratory ,” and was likely a personal acquaintance of Dr. Chandi in his practice. But one can’t be sure.

Finally there is “Tzonev Tzontcho.” Again, a degree from an unknown university is cited, and some random employment history without any named employers. Searches for this name show a person by that name in Bern Switzerland, director of the Swiss company Medipharm Ivnest GmbH, which is likely a match… perhaps an investor? There’s no way to know.

In the end, only Dr. Chandi himself is a truly verifiable entity, with all the rest being suspiciously void of any means to contact them.

But that was back in 2016, remember. On the current 2019 version of the website, all names of anyone who works at UAF have been scrubbed entirely. The URL for the Board still exists, but results in a nearly blank page throwing a java error. A search for Dr. Chandi’s name on the site comes up entirely blank, meaning they don’t want you to even know he owns it now. The only means of contacting anyone on the site are a generic email address and a web form. Calls to the listed UAF phone number are answered by a UAF voice mail greeting, but the number itself appears to be for a personal cell phone.

Residence at 3510 Colmar Quarter, Norfolk VA. Image courtesy Google maps.

Then there’s UAF’s physical address; again, it appears that simple information has been intentionally obfuscated. The official address appearing on the site and on the IAF member body listing is “3510, Colmar, Norfolk, VA 23509.” Obviously, that’s not how US addresses are listed; notice the weirdly placed comma after the number, and the lack of an actual street name.

It took some work, but we’ve since confirmed the actual address in Norfolk is “3510 Colmar Quarter, Norfolk VA 23509″, which is a pricey private residence in a well-maintained cul-de-sac, owned by Chandi and his wife.

So the UAF doesn’t even have a proper office address, and is being run out of Chandi’s home. It doesn’t build confidence for a global accreditation body if critical decisions are being made over some dining room table while the kids play Fortnite and the dog is barking.

It starts to become clear that all these misspellings and typos are not just accidental; I mean, how hard is it to type your own address? Instead, I suspect they serve a single purpose: to obscure the size and details of UAF from the general public.

All in the Family

Things don’t get better when one can finally make contact with a UAF employee. My first formal emails to UAF were responded to by someone only with the title “Senior Executive – Accreditation” but who signed his emails only as “Joe,” using the email address “joe@uafaccreditation.org”:

When I confronted him about avoiding using a last name while alleging to be a proper, formal Accreditation Body, “Joe” indignantly admitted his name was actually “Jobin Singh” and updated his signature line accordingly (at least for me.)

OK, in the US it’s common for Indian citizens to Americanize their names, presumably to dodge some inevitable racism. You’ve heard of Omnex’s “Chad” Kymal, ISO consultant “Bob Matthew,” or the IAS’ “Chuck” Ramani. It helps them get their foot in the door, and that’s fine; maybe some day our country won’t treat people with non-white names as threats.

But that still wasn’t the whole truth. Subsequent searches revealed that “Joe” is actually Jobin Singh Chandi, Tejwant’s son. (This photo on Facebook shows Jobin Chandi at far left, with his father Tejwant at far right.)

So yet again we see UAF’s paranoid tendency towards subtly tweaking information in order to obfuscate the truth. In this case, we can assume UAF didn’t want anyone to know that the son was the “Senior Executive” for the father’s Accreditation Body — which is odd, since there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Heck, ANAB is run by the son of the president of the certification body EAGLE, which is way more of a conflict of interest than if they both worked at the same company.

Maybe this would be fine if the company was selling dishware or clothing or electronics. But accreditation body are supposed to be enforcing a key concept of “openness” and transparency, so it’s not a good sign when right off the bat the UAF is working really, really hard to hide who’s behind it.

It’s also not clear how an international accreditation body with two employees and no commercial office space somehow has the required resources to conduct witness audits and office appraisals for clients in India and the Middle East. A third person — Parveen Sadana — was listed as a director in 2018, but his name was also scrubbed from the site. Sadana’s LinkedIn profile lists him as a witness auditor for an unnamed company — let’s assume he means UAF — and he lives in New Delhi, but a single auditor is unlikely to be enough to support the verification of UAF’s stable of registrars. In keeping with the UAF’s utter paranoia, after viewing his LinkedIn profile, Sadana appears to have either blocked me or deleted his LI profile entirely. (See update below.)

Again, not confidence inspiring.

IAF Opacity

Things don’t get much clearer when examining just how the UAF can claim to be a fully vetted Accreditation Body and member of the IAF, either. For one, the UAF website features links to a host of required documentation on accreditation procedures, etc., located here. The problem is that nearly all of the links are dead, and the documents don’t exist.  This includes the critical document related to accreditation rules for its ISO 9001 certification bodies.

And, while having a page on an “Impartiality Policy” which claims, “UAF has a procedure for handling complaints and appeals publically available on its official website,” the website doesn’t actually have this procedure anywhere posted. There’s a page that includes some information about complaints, but it’s not featured on any menu option (I had to manually search for it) and it still doesn’t include any procedure. That’s a problem, too, since ISO 17011 — the standard UAF is supposed to be working to in order to be a member of IAF — requires this procedure be made “available to any interested party.” I suppose one can ask for it, but the website doesn’t say this, it says the procedure is on the website… which it isn’t. So UAF can’t even be bothered to follow what they say they will do, nevermind anyone else.

The biggest problem, however, is that while UAF is listed as an official member of the IAF, it also hasn’t signed on as an “MLA signatory.” This is huge.

When Is A Member Not A Member

To analyze UAF better, we have to take a slight detour and understand the IAF’s membership arrangement, which — like everything else in this shady business — is as clear as mud.

The IAF Multilateral Agreement (“MLA”) is the document that makes IAF membership valuable. Essentially it allows the AB to recognize the accreditation certifications of CBs accredited by other bodies around the world. Through this arrangement, a company can switch registrars from one accredited by UKAS to another accredited by ANAB and not have problems. You can’t do that if the AB isn’t an MLA signatory.

Here’s the thing, though: the IAF allows an accreditation body to be a member and use its logo on certificates after only signing a preliminary “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) and then making a statement “committing to” signing the MLA… eventually.

The IAF explained it to me this way:

An MOU member is obligated to seek complying to the requirement of the MLA however there is no time limit to become a signatory.  IAF members are allowed to use the IAF logo in a manner that is not misleading to the public. A MOU member is not allowed to use the IAF MLA Mark found on certificates.

So apparently there are two tiers of IAF membership, and two logos: one referring to the MRA and another without it. You’d be forgiven if you never knew this. I never did, and I’ve been studying the IAF for decades.

Apparently these two logos have dramatically different meanings, although the public would never know.

So UAF is only an “MOU” level member, and have only stated that they intend, some day, to pursue full “MLA” level membership in IAF. And they’ve been claiming this for at least three years.

It gets worse. Being an MLA-level member means the Accreditation Body is now undergoing peer review audits to ensure compliance to ISO 17011.

Accreditation body … are admitted to the IAF MLA only after a most stringent evaluation of their operations by a peer evaluation team which is charged to ensure that the applicant member complies fully with both the international standards and IAF requirements. Once an accreditation body is a signatory of the IAF MLA it is required to recognise the certificates issued by conformity assessment bodies accredited by all other signatories of the IAF MLA, with the appropriate scope.

So therefore the opposite is also true: an AB at the “MOU” level hasn’t signed the MLA, and therefore does not undergo any peer audits. That means there’s no mechanism to verify that they actually comply with ISO 17011… so they don’t even have to.

That trickles down. Since the one job of an AB is to ensure their CBs are following the ISO 17xxx rules, this means UAF’s various registrars don’t have to comply with ISO 17021-1, either. In the meantime, though, it can use the IAF logo to trick people into thinking that its registrars are being witnessed, and that the accreditation means something … even if it doesn’t.

And IAF is okay with this arrangement, because they wanted UAF’s check deposited in their bank account, and Elva Nilsen needs fuel for her private plane.

UAF listing in the IAF member directory showing MLS not yet signed. Also notice corrupted street address also appears in the official listing.

APAC Doesn’t Care, Either

It gets even more complicated, so hold on.

Apparently you don’t have to sign IAF’s MLA, you can sign a “regional” equivalent issued by one of six “Regional Accreditation Groups” scattered around the world. This is because the IAF recognizes the MLAs of the various regional groups.

Of the six, the Asian Pacific Accreditation Cooperation (APAC) is the one that IAF says UAF falls under. This is because even though the UAF has a US address, everyone knows it’s really serving Indian and Middle Eastern clients. So it falls under APAC.

But the UAF hasn’t signed the APAC agreement (called an “MRA” in their parlance) either.

APAC puts a limit (of sorts) on the otherwise infinite time scale of IAF, however, telling me:

UAF’s APAC MRA application has been accepted, and the evaluation is currently being planned. As you may know, APAC inherited UAF from the former PAC as an Associate Member on 1 Jan 2019.  Under the APAC rules, Associate Members have 3 years within which to apply to become a APAC MRA signatory, and if the evaluation is successful to then be a Full Member of APAC.

So that means that while APAC has a three year time limit (whereas IAF has none), it reset the clock for UAF because of a merger that formed APAC in 2019. That essentially gives UAF another three years — until January 2022 — to keep doing what it’s doing. Which is … nothing?

In the interim, UAF doesn’t really have to comply with ISO 17011 at all. That means it doesn’t have to ensure its various certification bodies have to comply with the accreditation rules of ISO 17021-1 either. It means that if you want to switch from a UAF-accredited registrar to a, say, ANAB or UKAS accredited one, you’re going to have problems.

But we do know that UAF must have paid its $2000 membership fee for IAF, and some similar membership fee for APAC, and then is paying everybody annual dues accordingly. That appears to be all that’s required to become an official accreditation body in the IAF scheme. Rules don’t matter.

What’s so frustrating about this mess is that the complexity, the shadiness, the obfuscation isn’t just a symptom of UAF. The IAF sets the tone. The IAF has flushed its website of all references to human beings. It stripped mentions of its staff and Secretary. Elva Nilsen refuses to sign her emails using her name, thinking that people are fooled somehow. The IAF has created a labyrinthine process that allows ABs to become IAF members and use their logo while not actually doing anything different than they were before joining.

So, ultimately, the IAF owns this.

In the meantime, however, the UAF is not doing itself any favors by acting so suspicious. If they truly are upholding the accreditation rules — and evidence suggests they are not, but we will see as the investigations play out — then why the paranoia? If you having nothing to hide, when why work so hard to hide things?

Shady, shady, shady.

UPDATE 26 October 2019: New information has come in regarding Parveen Sadana, who was listed in 2018 as being on the Board at IAS. Official Indian business registry entries show Sadana is a director for Transpacific Certifications Ltd., a CB accredited by JAS-ANZ. The Sadana family seems to be well-connected in other aspects of the CB/AB community, too, and we’re still analyzing the registry filings. If Sadana had any ownership stake in IAS, this would be a clear violation of accreditation rules, but IAS’ formation in Delaware allows them to hide this information. “Piercing the corporate veil” in Delaware is nigh impossible, which is why companies entitize in that state.

 

About Christopher Paris

Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001:2015. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.