Murdoch’s Private Eye Scandal

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Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers have been tangled in a new scandal as evidence comes to light of a private detective working for the company who used legally questionable tactics to obtain a London hotel bill run up by one of New York’s richest financiers.

In March 2003, private investigator Steve Whittamore was arrested and convicted for trading in illegally obtained information; however, he did not serve any jail time. During the investigation, British government investigators compiled a database of business records, one of which was a copy of a bill from Claridge’s Hotel belonging to Robert Agostinelli who runs the Rhone Group private equity firm. The bill was obtained by Whittamore, or someone working for him, through misrepresentation.

Both Whittamore and Agostinelli could not be reached for comment on the matter.

This is just one example of the many pieces of evidence that have surfaced during the U.K. investigations into Murdoch’s British newspapers questionable investigative techniques during a judicial inquiry. The inquiry, created by British Prime Minister David Cameron and chaired by Sir Brian Leveson, a senior English judge, is delving into the practices and ethics of the British press.

Financier Targeted By Private Eye

The Whittamore database, put together by the office of Britain’s Information Commissioner, shows that Whittamore’s inquiry regarding Agostinelli was commissioned by the News of the World, a Sunday Tabloid owned by Murdoch which has since gone under. Records show that Whittamore’s assignment was labelled as a “Claridges blag”.

Blagging, which is known in the U.S. as pretexting, is when a private detective will adopt a false identity to con information out of a targeted individual or organisation. The U.K. media industry says that the practice is usually illegal; however, newspapers can defend themselves by claiming that the use of the practice was in the “public interest”.

The Whittamore database named the journalist who commissioned the private detective in this case who claims that he has never heard of Agostinelli and that the database entry is inaccurate.

As the investigation continues more information will come to light and hopefully some questions will be answered, but for now no parties involved are ready to break their silence.

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