Spies have fingers in many govt pies

Clients range from university to pork board THE MINISTRY of Agriculture and Forestry quietly severed its contract with controversial private investigators Thompson and Clark Investigations last year, after the Sunday Star-Times revealed that TCIL’s “corporate intelligence” included infiltrating and spying on community groups.

Maf initially refused under the Official Information Act to confirm or deny any contract with the private investigators. However, when chief executive Murray Sherwin became aware of the issue the contract was cancelled.

“In light of the direction from the prime minister regarding SOEs’ use of private investigation firms, Maf reviewed the information supplied by Thompson and Clark and terminated its contract with them,” he said. The information was a monthly newsletter on national and international animal rights issues and “of limited value to our enforcement and compliance activities”.

Greens co-leader Russel Norman has asked the government to audit government bodies to find out which are using the private investigators. The move comes after the Star-Times reported last week that the private investigators had been caught a second time trying to infiltrate activist groups, including the environmental group Save Happy Valley, who oppose state-owned enterprise Solid Energy’s West Coast coal mining operations.

SOE Minister Trevor Mallard accepted Solid Energy’s assurances that it had instructed TCIL to stop using paid informants and had been assured that TCIL had complied with this directive. But Mallard said: “This company has now twice done damage to the reputation of Solid Energy with their activities” and he expected the Solid Energy board to make “the appropriate decision” about its contract with TCIL.

At the same time he questioned other government agencies using TCIL’s services.

“I don’t like TCIL’s chances of getting government work, frankly, from any Crown entity in the future,” he said.

Although most of its income appears to come from publicly owned companies, TCIL’s activities are surrounded in secrecy.

The crown research institute AgResearch, for instance, admits it has “had a relationship with TCIL since June 2006″, but it refused to disclose details of the services provided or the amount paid to TCIL. Massey University also receives unspecified private investigation services, as does the Pork Industry Board, which is set up under government legislation and funded by a statutory levy.

Last year Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton expressed surprise that the Pork Industry Board would use private investigators. “It’s not the normal thing we associate with New Zealand institutions,” he said.

Another TCIL client is NZBio, the industry lobby group for the biotech industry. CEO Bronwyn Dilley said TCIL provides security for NZBio’s annual conferences. NZBio, which is mostly government funded, promotes TCIL to its member groups as an “NZBio partner” and “Security providers to the Biotech Industry”. Beyond this, TCIL’s government and government-funded clients have remained secret.

Solid Energy’s use of TCIL is also almost entirely secret. The Star-Times asked Solid Energy last June to reveal what it was paying TCIL to do and, nearly a year later, the ombudsman is still investigating its refusal to do so. Large sums of state money are involved. In its first 20 months of working for Solid Energy, up to June 2007, “the total cost of services supplied by Thompson and Clark” was $1.9 million.

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