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Downer joins Eddington at ‘spy’ firm Hakluyt which has carried out undercover operations on behalf of Shell and BP

  • Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie
  • October 14, 2008

FORMER Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has joined Kevin Rudd’s infrastructure chief, businessman Sir Rod Eddington, in advising a secretive British firm that sells intelligence on government policy intentions – including those in Australia – to big business.

The firm, Hakluyt & Co, was founded by former officers of British spy agency M16. Hakluyt has been embroiled in several corporate spying scandals and was caught in 2001 paying a former German intelligence agent to infiltrate green groups in Europe on behalf of the oil companies Shell
and BP.

Hakluyt employs many former  British intelligence officers and provides companies with high-level business and political intelligence on investment opportunities.

Mr Downer, the UN special envoy to Cyprus, was appointed to Hakluyt’s advisory board in May. As foreign minister, he oversaw the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and had top-level access to information from Australia’s spy agencies.

Sir Rod has served on Hakluyt’s advisory board since 2005, but is not paid for his services.

In February, he was appointed chairman of Infrastructure Australia, a Rudd Government body charged with modernising the nation’s water, transport, communications and energy assets through the $20billion Building Australia fund.

The former British Airways chief now faces conflict of interest allegations due to his roles with Hakluyt and Infrastructure Australia.

Greens leader Senator Bob Brown last night said Sir Rod should cut ties with Hakluyt because it was a “direct conflict of interest” with his Infrastructure Australia role. “We will move to amend the Building Australia legislation when it comes through Parliament in a few weeks to ensure there are no conflicts of interest on the Infrastructure Australia board,” Senator Brown said.

A former high level Australian security official told The Age that Hakluyt was one of the more “aggressive and invasive” corporate intelligence firms and that it was a clear conflict of interest for Sir Rod to be advising both the company and the Australian Government.

The company has ties with Liberal Party polling firm Crosby Textor. Hakluyt founder and former MI6 officer Christopher James was appointed  a senior adviser to Crosby Textor in 2006. 

Sir Rod, who is also advising the Victorian Government on transport policy, last night denied any real or perceived conflict of interest, saying he had not advised anyone at Hakluyt on Australian Government policy. “There is no conflict of interest,” Sir Rod said.

“Like many people in corporate life, you manage your life in a way that they (conflicts) do not occur. I sit around the (Hakluyt) table with guys who are extremely experienced businessmen with great integrity. Hakluyt is a way for me to keep my international network up.”

He said he had not seen any evidence to suggest Hakluyt had ever acted unethically. “Do you think Alexander Downer would be on the advisory board of a company that acted unethically?” Sir Rod asked.

Prominent figures to have served on the Hakluyt advisory board include former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former Shell chairman Peter Holmes, former BP deputy chairman Peter Cazalet and former  US ambassador to India Frank Wisner jnr.

In 2004, Hakluyt advisory board member Lord Inge resigned over a perceived conflict of interest due to his membership of the Butler review commissioned by then British prime minister Tony Blair to examine intelligence failures in Iraq.

A spokesman for Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese said last night there were legislative safeguards to prevent real or perceived conflicts of interest between Infrastructure Australia board members and their respective business dealings.

Speaking from London last night, Hakluyt deputy managing director Rupert Huxter said he did not believe the company had “done anything on infrastructure in Australia”. Mr Huxter said Mr Downer was sought after because he was an experienced minister who would help Hakluyt’s
advisory board “open doors to clients” .

“We exist to provide people with information they would not get anywhere else,” he said.

The company no longer  infiltrated activist groups, he said. “What (scandal) there is is 10 years old. The company has grown up a lot since then.” Mr Downer could not be contacted last night.

Although its Australian client base remains secret, Hakluyt is active in Australia. Its Australian director is Sydney-based former British diplomat Philip Morrice.

In August, Hakluyt approached a freelance Australian health journalist to join its network of “discreet” agents to provide information on Australian Government health policy.

An email from a Hakluyt employee to the journalist outlines the company’s intelligence gathering methods: “We have a proprietary network of well-placed individuals around the world who are able to provide us, very discreetly, with intelligence on specific commercial or political issues
that may arise.”

Although it goes to great lengths to keep its  clients secret, Hakluyt has worked for European defence and aerospace company  EADS and offered its services to disgraced US energy company Enron executives by saying it provided “an unparalleled private intelligence network at the personal
disposal of senior commercial figures”.

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