Hacking scandal: Blue-chip firms that used corrupt private investigators are identified

Financial institutions among those on a list from Serious Organised Crime Agency to MPs

Ian Johnston
Monday 26 August 2013 01:31

The financial institutions Deloitte, Credit Suisse and Chase Manhattan are among a number of companies that allegedly had links to corrupt private investigators jailed last year for blagging or illegally acquiring information, it has emerged.

The Mail on Sunday named six firms that it said were on a secret list given to a parliamentary committee by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) of companies that may have employed or had some kind of relationship with the PIs. The paper also said it had uncovered “new Soca evidence” about nine other firms named by one of the corrupt detectives, but said it was unclear whether they were on the list given to MPs.

Jeremy Clarkson reportedly hired one of these firms, a security company called Greymans, to expose a man the Top Gear presenter described as a “terrible online weirdo” who he said had targeted a member of his family. The Mail on Sunday said Greymans used one of the corrupt PIs to blag the man’s address, but there was no suggestion that the company or Clarkson knew anything illegal may have occurred.

The Mail on Sunday stressed there was no evidence that any of the firms had deliberately or directly employed the detectives to carry out any illegal activity on their behalf. The four private investigators involved pleaded guilty to fraud last year and were given prison sentences.

In June, The Independent revealed that Soca compiled a dossier in 2008 detailing how firms, individuals and organised crime bosses had hired criminal PIs. These investigators broke the law to obtain sensitive information including mobile phone records, bank statements and details of witnesses under police protection.

Soca gave the 102-name list to the Home Affairs Select Committee, but classified it as secret to safeguard individuals’ human rights and protect the “financial viability of major organisations” for fear of “tainting them with public association with criminality”.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affair Select Committee, said yesterday that the committee would make a decision on whether to publish the list after it met on 3 September.

He said in a statement that six regulators including the Office of Fair Trading and others covering the law, railways, car hire, security firms, drug companies and accountants had confirmed they issued no guidelines on the use of private investigators. “It is clear that for too long, companies have been hiring private investigators who compromise the privacy of individuals with apparent impunity ,” he said.

The Mail on Sunday said a senior Westminster source had confirmed that the accountants Deloitte, banks Chase Manhattan, now part of JP Morgan, and Credit Suisse, and three law firms, Reed Smith, Herbert Smith Freehills and Clyde & Co, were on the list. It identified nine other firms that it said had been named by one of the corrupt detectives: the Danish bank Jyske, the insurance giant AON, the law firms Lawrence Graham, Holman Fenwick Willan and Denton Wilde Sapte, security firms Greymans and Interfor, and construction firms Morgan Sindall and Gamble Rail.

The Independent attempted to contact all of the firms named by the paper yesterday. Most were unavailable.

A spokeswoman for Deloitte said: “To the best of our knowledge, we’ve no existing or past relationship with this company [the jailed PIs].” Morgan Sindall said that it “takes issues of fraud and misconduct very seriously and operates a whistleblowing system through which individuals can register any concerns. All such investigations are conducted properly and within the confines of the law.”

AON, Credit Suisse and Dentons, a firm created after Denton Wilde Sapte merged with a US firm, declined to comment. Jeremy Clarkson’s wife Frances said he did not want to comment. Keltbray, the company that took over Gamble Rail in 2009, said it was not aware Gamble had commissioned PIs and stressed the alleged events happened before Keltbray was involved.

Interfor’s chief executive Don Aviv told The Mail on Sunday that one of the PIs had provided background checks to Interfor and the work had been done legally. A former director of Greymans denied it had employed one of the PIs but failed to respond to questions about the Clarkson case, the paper said.

A spokesman for Clyde & Co told The Mail on Sunday it had tried to look into its alleged relationship but “found nothing to support the allegations apparently made.” The other firms either declined to comment or did not respond, The Mail on Sunday said.

Meanwhile, Vaz said in a statement that six industry regulators, including the Office of Fair Trading and others covering the law, railways, car hire, security firms, drug companies and accountants, had confirmed they issued no guidelines on the use of private investigators.

"It is clear that for too long, companies have been hiring private investigators who compromise the privacy of individuals with apparent impunity. Regulators must take responsibility for what happens on their watch and issue guidelines immediately to ensure that companies do not hire private investigators who break the law, with or without their knowledge," Vaz said.

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