In Australia, workers who mined and processed asbestos were called “Snowmen” because they’d emerge at the end of every shift covered in the white fibres. The companies who employed those men – firms like James Hardie and CSR – knew that their product was deadly and caused cancer. They mined it, processed it and sold it anyway, until the Australian government, under pressure from the anti-asbestos movement of activists, unionists and lawyers, acted to protect public health. While asbestos is now banned in Australia, the industry still thrives overseas. In particular, growth is strong in our backyard of Asia, where poor nations are targeted by the new asbestos lobby of producers, manufacturers and their lawyers, some of whom are prepared to go to almost any lengths to protect their profits and peddle their poison. In this special New Matilda investigation, British journalist Michael Gillard and New Matilda editor Chris Graham reveal as yet unpublished details of a global spying operation on Australian and other international activists and officials, who remain locked in a battle to stop the trail of death and misinformation in poorly regulated Asian economies.
A SHADOWY private detective agency hired by a Kazakhstan multinational company linked to the asbestos industry has been spying on a United Nations health agency and the international anti-asbestos movement for the last four years, a New Matilda investigation can reveal.
Parliamentarians, public health officials, activists, academics, unionists, scientists and human rights lawyers from the UK to Australia were targeted between 2012 and 2016.
The global spying operation, codenamed Project Spring, was the brainchild of K2 Intelligence and run from its London office. It involved placing a corporate spy at the heart of the anti-asbestos movement, which for more than a decade has been building gradual momentum for a world-wide ban on the deadly mineral.
Robert Moore, the spy, posed as a journalist wanting to make a campaigning documentary about the nefarious activities of the asbestos industry in Asia, a growth market where the material is not banned.
However, internal documents reveal that Moore’s real mission was to collect intelligence, which K2 then passed to its publicity shy client.
The UK courts have granted that client an injunction preventing them from being named and shamed, because of the reputational damage. However, that suppression order does not apply to publications outside the UK.
New Matilda has seen court documents, including a witness statement by Moore in which he identifies the client as the Kusto Group, a construction, oil and gas conglomerate owned by oligarchs from Kazakhstan.
Moore, 50, who was paid almost £500,000 in wages and expenses for his treachery, handed over sensitive documents and filed secret intelligence reports which helped undermine public health efforts by the UN’s World Health Organisation in Asia, where the Kusto Group operates.
The espionage scandal has rocked the global anti-asbestos movement who openly campaign against a bellicose industry, which for decades downplayed the health risks of exposure to the cancer-causing fibre and then fought compensation claims brought by affected workers and communities.
MOORE targeted Laurie Kazan-Allen, the renowned founder of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS). He saw her as his way into the wider international network.
“Moore was given a passport resulting from his acceptance by me,” the 69-year-old American who lives in London said in a witness statement. “He has misled us and compromised our life’s work… I am gravely concerned that through my actions I may have, unwittingly, compromised the effectiveness and even lives of key Ban Asbestos activists.”
Moore claimed he was “well-connected” and could get funding for his documentary from prominent comedian friends and a hedge fund, Kazan-Allen recalled.
“An independent operator making documentaries in support of our movement seemed a godsend – too good to be true, we might think now. Another tool in his arsenal of persuasion was the revelation that his sister Charlotte Moore was highly placed in the BBC – in fact made Controller of BBC1 in 2013,” she added.
Kazan-Allen and a high-profile human rights lawyer even donated almost £10,000 to a charity, Stop Asbestos, which Moore set up as a “cover” to infiltrate anti-asbestos groups in Australia and Asia. The idea was secretly financed by K2 Intelligence.
In an initial briefing document on Project Spring prepared for K2 by Moore, he also lists individuals and organisations around the world who he believes may be useful to infiltrate the anti-asbestos movement.
New Matilda has confirmed at least three Australians – all of them union officials active in supporting the push for a world-wide ban on asbestos – were approached by Moore.
They are Barry Robson, a former senior official with the Maritime Union of Australia and the current president of the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia; Andrew Ramsay, a senior Queensland official with the CFMEU; and Andrew Dettmer, national president of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.
All three met Moore at an international anti-asbestos conference in Geneva in May 2015. Robson says Moore infiltrated a circle of Australian, British, French and Indian officials, who would meet after each day’s sessions for a beer.
“It’s so bloody expensive, Geneva. Everyone is on the black American express cards there. We’re just Trade Union officials, so we were all staying in the same hotel… and we couldn’t afford to go anywhere else, so we would meet in the car park of the Holiday Inn every night. This bloke and his partner would come in in a caravan selling fish and chips, but also Heineken and Guinness and red and white wine. That’s where would Rob would do his work.”
Robson says Moore would shout drinks, but be careful not to have too many himself. “He’d sit down, ‘Can I buy you a Guinness, blah, blah, blah. I want to talk about what you’re doing back there in Australia. He’d have a beer – just the one – and he’d sit on it.
“What was strange [is that you]never saw him with a notepad. You can see in the photo the way he worked.”
Robson had already met Moore at a conference in Washington a month earlier in April 2015 and was warned by the organizer to be wary of the journalist, whose presence had already raised suspicions. Moore had sat in on a series of filmed interviews with conference participants Robson recalled.
Andrew Dettmer – who was part of the group in Geneva – saw Moore again at another anti-asbestos conference six months later in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Court documents reveal Moore reported back to K2 from all three conferences, although none of the Australian officials he met are named in the Project Spring briefing document.
Two other Australians, however, are named in Moore’s original target list provided to K2 Intelligence – John Sutton, the former head of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), and Robert Vojakovic, president of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia based in Perth. Neither could recall ever having any contact with him.
The spy company that ‘does no harm’
JULES Kroll and his son, Jeremy, founded K2 in New York in 2009. They claim clients are attracted by the corporate intelligence agency’s “ethical conduct”, “integrity” and an ethos of “do no harm”.
The agency employs retired law enforcement and intelligence officers and freelance journalists to conduct covert operations for blue chip companies at arm’s length.
The golden rules are don’t get caught and protect the client.
However, matters unraveled last September when Leigh Day, a London law firm working for asbestos claimants, was tipped off about Moore’s undercover activities.
Moore is currently being hauled through the UK courts to return all the confidential information he illicitly obtained from the law firm and IBAS.
The legal action panicked K2, which successfully obtained an injunction to prevent the identity of their client, the Kusto Group, from being revealed.
In a witness statement, K2 would only describe the client as a man “with interests in the chrysotile (white asbestos) industry”. It said he had a “legitimate” reason to investigate a suspected “corrupt association” between law firms acting for claimants suffering from asbestos-related diseases, substitute manufacturers and activists plotting to “destroy” the chrysotile industry in India and Asia.
K2’s lawyers also told the court that if identified their client feared “aggressive” retaliation from the anti-asbestos movement and irreparable reputational damage to other business interests.
Although the UK judge said the client must have been involved with K2 in “wrongdoing”, an anonymity order was granted and reporting restrictions imposed on the UK media only.
The Kazakhstan connection
YERKIN Tatishev, a 40-year-old Kazak entrepreneur, runs the Kusto Group. He made his name rescuing the Kostanai and Orenburg chrysotile mines in Kazakhstan and Russia respectively.
Kusto is headquartered in Singapore and claims a US$1.2 billion turnover. It has key building material and construction operations in Vietnam, where campaigners want to ban asbestos, and where Moore was active. It also owns a major paint supplier in Israel.
Tatishev himself has close links to Kazahk oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former politician and banker who stands accused of the largest fraud in global history. Ablyazov was found by the British High Court to have stolen at least £2.6 billion from Bank TuranAlem (BTA), Kazakhstan’s largest bank, of which Ablyazov was once Chairman and a major shareholder. At least another £3 billion remains unaccounted for.
Tatishev served on the board of BTA with Ablyazov, replacing his older brother, Yerhan Tatishev, who died in mysterious circumstances during a hunting trip in 2004. US diplomatic cables at the time, published by Wikileaks, speculate that the older Tatishev had helped Ablyazov liquidate his assets and move his money offshore in the early 2000s, before Ablyazov fled Kazakhstan claiming political persecution.
Ablyazov – a key political opponent to autocratic Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev – was sentenced to 22 months jail in the United Kingdom in 2012 for perjury, after he was sued by BTA over the missing billions. He fled England before he could be jailed, and was eventually arrested in France in 2013, but released in December last year after finally defeating an extradition order to Russia.
In 2014, a spokesperson for Yerkin Tatishev publicly denied any wrongdoing in relation to BTA. Kusto group media consultant Tal Rabina told Globes magazine in 2014, “Mukhtar Ablyazov was a member of the board of directors on a bank in Kazakhstan that was nationalized, together with a representative of the Tatishev family. At the same time, note that in contrast with the ongoing investigation against Ablyazov reported in several media, the entire investigation against other directors in that bank, including Mr. Tatishev, ended in less than 24 hours, with the legal authorities there making it clear to those under investigation that they had found nothing wrong with their activity, and the issuing of a written character reference. In order to remove all doubt, in contrast to Ablyazov, the Tatishev family members and the Kusto group are to this day accepted as respectable businessmen in Kazakhstan.”
According to press reports, in 2014 the Kusto Group was also investigated on suspicion of money laundering in Israel after purchasing a paint company at an apparently inflated price – 500 million sheckels, 200 million more than an offer from previous talks with a private equity firm – without allegedly having conducted any due diligence on the deal. There is no record of any prosecution of the company or individuals associated with it, and the Kusto Group has previously denied wrongdoing.
Tal Rabina told Globe magazine: “Both the Azrieli group and the various banks in Israel examined the Kusto group carefully both before and after completing the deal for the acquisition of Tambour. Following the clear findings of these inquiries, which found that all the sources of the group’s money were known and respectable, not only did they approve the deal, but they even proposed to finance it, even though the Kusto group intended from the start to finance the acquisition from its own resources.
“Incidentally, any state authority, such as the Money Laundering Authority, is obviously obligated to carefully check any information it obtains. As we have seen in recent affairs, however, the very transferring of any kind of information to the Authority, and even an examination of that information, if any was performed, does not indicate that this ‘information’ has any real reliability whatsoever. The group has received no official query in this matter whatsoever, but if one is received, we will be glad to cooperate with any authorised party.”
Multiple attempts by New Matilda to seek comment from the The Israel Money Laundering and Terror Financing Prohibition Authority were unsuccessful.
Daniel Kunin – K2’s point of contact with the Kusto Group – was Kusto’s public spokesperson for the Israeli purchase. Robert Moore names Kunin as K2’s client in his witness statement. “Two years ago, I found out that… Daniel Kunin was K2’s client. It took me another six months and a second trip to Thailand to realize he worked for Yerkin Tatishev, the owner of the biggest mines in Russia and Kazakhstan,” he said.
Moore also claimed in the witness statement that Kunin, Kusto’s managing director, first approached K2 in May 2012.
Matteo Bigazzi, an executive managing director in the K2 London office, then contracted Moore to infiltrate the anti-asbestos movement. It was his second assignment for K2, but the journalist was already in the betrayal business.
One of the family
MOORE, a Buddhist, claims he first became a corporate spy for hire in 2007 after an unremarkable television career producing comedy programmes.
He reinvented himself as a freelance investigative documentary maker. But this was really a cover to supplement his income by infiltrating activists and lawyers on behalf of a range of corporate intelligence agencies he has yet to name.
Moore received his secret orders for Project Spring from Bigazzi in person or through a Gmail account. Both men had the password to the account and Moore dropped documents and his reports in the draft folder, to ensure nothing was ever sent over the Internet.
In one of his first reports, Moore discussed with his K2 controller how to win over Kazan-Allen. “I am confident,” he told Bigazzi, “I can enter this world relatively easily and with a high level of legitimacy and credibility… If I am allowed to genuinely pursue a story and endeavour to get it commissioned it would add to my credibility with Kazan-Allen and, more importantly, the veracity of my cover.”
He continued: “The stand out story is the growth of the asbestos industry throughout Asia… how developed countries are pushing dangerous materials (that we banned) onto poorly educated people in poorly regulated developing countries. There is lots for a liberal minded TV producer to get angry about here.”
Kazan-Allen said she soon came to see Moore as “one of the family”. Before long, the veteran campaigner was introducing the spy at conferences in Brussels and Thailand. Moore later travelled to the US, Canada, India and Vietnam.
Unknown to Kazan-Allen, his real mission was to find out about potential legal threats from American and British class actions lawyers, including her brother, who represents US asbestos victims.
Targeting the UN
ANOTHER area of interest was gathering intelligence to neutralise the push by campaigners to add white asbestos to the UN’s list of materials harmful to human health, thereby requiring producers to obtain prior informed consent before they can export.
Moore specifically targeted the World Health Organisation (WHO), a UN agency, and the International Labour Organisation to see if they were funding law firms connected to IBAN.
In his witness statement, he said K2 instructed him in 2013 to find out what action WHO was planning to take on white asbestos in the Philippines and Thailand.
The spy gained the trust of leading health officials who, convinced of his integrity, later part-funded him to make two short asbestos films, which helped enhance his cover and access.
“Feedback from the client is very positive and they would like to continue to mine the WHO vein,” Bigazzi wrote in an email dated 19 July 2013.
ROBERT Moore wormed his way to the centre of the anti-asbestos movement and by the start of 2015 he was attending key policy and strategic legal meetings.
K2 had proposed a £185,000 budget to the client for the year. £105,000 alone was earmarked for Moore’s “monthly retainer”.
In the end, Bigazzi informed his spy that the client was only “prepared to go to the board and ask for a maximum of £160,000”. In return, they wanted Moore to focus on WHO, Vietnam, Thailand and other “pan-Asian intel”.
The spy agreed but was keen that K2 did not disclose his identity to the client in case they inadvertently blew his cover when using the sensitive intelligence he was providing. “We are now being given access to the most confidential information that is shared by an extremely (his italics) small circle. If any of this gets out we will be exposed,” he wrote in February 2015.
We are now being given access to the most confidential information that is shared by an extremely (his italics) small circle. If any of this gets out we will be exposed.” – Robert Moore, February 2015
By July, Moore appeared particularly jumpy. He reiterated to K2 the risk of discovery. “I think the ramifications would be particularly serious for us because of the approaches we are deploying to get inside information from one of the United Nation’s most important agencies,” he explained in a covering email attached to his latest report on WHO.
To further his “cover”, in late 2015 Moore set up the Stop Asbestos charity in the UK. He persuaded well-known campaigners and lawyers from Leigh Day and Doughty Street chambers to become trustees.
They believed Moore when he said the charity could raise funds for his research in Asia. However, in an email to his K2 controller, he wrote: “I believe we now have a cover that could take us through to the end of 2016 and visit all the desired destinations… I have now been invited to meet key parties in Australia.”
Dr Barry Castleman, an American expert on asbestos, met Moore at a conference in Vietnam. The veteran expert witness travels the world appearing for claimants. He has given evidence for victims of CSR, the owners of a blue asbestos mine in Wittenoom, Western Australia once owned by mining magnate Lang Hancock.
In Vietnam, the doctor warmed to Moore after the Brit arranged a surprise 69th birthday party.
Dr Castleman readily agreed to be a trustee of the charity.
Stephen Hughes, a British Socialist Member of the European Parliament, was also invited to become a trustee. The now retired parliamentarian was unaware that Moore had been reporting back to K2 on his anti-asbestos advocacy in the Brussels parliament.
AS well as spying on asbestos activists, in late 2015 Moore took on a new paid assignment for K2: to infiltrate Global Witness, a human rights NGO, and Nigerian anti-corruption campaigners.
K2’s client was concerned about a bribery investigation involving a Nigerian Delta oil licence awarded to Shell and ENI, the Italian energy firm.
However, after passing several intelligence reports to K2, in June 2016 Moore suddenly revealed that he was a spy. During a meeting with Simon Taylor, the head of Global Witness, Moore admitted his corporate espionage for K2. He said he wanted to expose the asbestos industry and offered to work for the NGO as a double agent on the Nigerian case.
The offer was refused as Taylor felt Moore could be a triple agent and couldn’t be trusted. Global Witness instead urged him to “come clean” to all those he was betraying.
Meanwhile, Leigh Day was tipped off because of the risk to the anti-asbestos movement. In October, the law firm ignored Moore’s pleas not to sue him and launched legal proceedings for misuse of confidential information. Leigh Day, who is also acting for Laurie Kazan-Allen, demanded he return documents. So far over 35,000 have been handed over.
Dr Castleman recalled how Moore admitted spying for K2 when he confronted him by phone. “But he said along the way he had developed sympathy and didn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know and was really on our side.”
Dr Castleman does not buy it. “Rob had been telling me up to that point he was onto a story connecting Russian oligarchs, Wall Street and people in London profiteering off asbestos. He never got round to explaining it and said it was all ‘hush hush’ the way you would if you are making stuff up.”
It appears that a spooked Moore first started developing an exit strategy from corporate spying in mid-2015. The plan involved reinventing himself as a whistleblower, much in the same way that he had reinvented himself as a campaigning investigative journalist in order to spy on people since 2007.
The need to get out of spying appears to be driven by a fear his cover had been blown – by 2015 some in the anti-asbestos movement were already beginning to suspect him.
Linda Reinstein, the co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation in the US, invited Moore to two of her conferences – one in 2013, and the second in April 2015 – after an introduction by Laurie Kazan-Allen.
It was Reinstein who warned Australian union official Barry Moore to “be careful”.
“There was definitely something amiss first time I saw him,” Reinstein said. “I watched how he wandered around – I’m a mum and a widow and a businesswoman, and I get strange vibes sometimes. I just knew that he stunk.”
At the second conference two years later, Reinstein said Moore drew even more attention – and suspicion – to himself. “He was taking pictures of everyone there. I told him that in all my years of organising conferences, I’ve never had anyone photograph everyone and every slide. He was out to catch as much data from our conference as he could get. He played me. He’d get an Oscar for his role as a spy.”
Andrew Dettmer, national president of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, came across Moore twice – once at an international conference in Geneva in May 2015, and then six months later in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Dettmer says that Moore ingratiated himself into a group of union delegates, before he (Dettmer) was forced to confront him. “At one stage, I had to take him aside and take him to task. He was basically trying to get us to do things, putting all these suggestions forward. At the time, I thought he was doing it for the purposes of making a more convincing documentary, but of course now I realize what he was trying to do was… direct us in particular ways that would potentially open us up to collateral attacks from the asbestos lobby.”
According to a source close to Moore, around this time, his partner was “worried” about his double life and he was anxious that his younger sister, the top BBC executive, would be tarnished by his unmanaged exposure.
So in May 2015, Moore approached a very senior British television executive from Mentorn Media, a leading production company, with the idea of making a hard-hitting documentary about the asbestos industry. He told the executive about his role as a spy but insisted he must not be outed.
Moore offered to provide inside information on the Kusto group while drawing wages for spying on the anti-asbestos movement. It was an offer that raised some very ethical questions.
However, in the one year that Moore engaged with the TV executive, he produced no hard evidence of anything like the financial conspiracy story he had spun to Dr Castelman and others. Rather, the spy went on to set up the bogus charity, Stop Asbestos, and continued to submit invoices to K2.
In June 2016, the Mentorn executive introduced Moore to a senior journalist at the BBC’s flagship current affairs strand. He too was underwhelmed by Moore’s dossier of evidence and walked away when the project started to mutate into a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the spy’s journey to redemption. Moore even envisaged a heroic ending where he is filmed outing himself on stage at an anti-asbestos conference full of delegates he had spied on.
The whole scheme is not so surprising given Moore has claimed that since 2007 some TV companies and broadcasters were aware of his work as a corporate spy and saw it as a cheap and ethical way to research programme ideas.
In the end, no hard-hitting film was ever made with Moore about the asbestos industry. But neither did anyone in television respond like Global Witness to Moore’s confession by alerting those he was betraying. It is not insignificant that the Judas journalist’s last invoice to K2 was dated October 2016.
Moore told New Matilda: “I remain in an impossible position where I am prevented from discussing this case due to orders made by the Court to protect parties to these proceedings. I intend to abide by those orders. When all the facts can be made public, I will be in a position to tell the whole truth about these events. When I do so, I trust that my actions and the reasons behind them will become clear.”
K2 refuses to discuss its clients but has said it will defend the action brought by Leigh Day in the UK courts.
The Kusto Group has no office telephone number and an email that does not work. It has, however issued public statements in the past denying money laundering and any link to the BTA fraud, which can be read as part of a media report here.
RETIRED Australian union official, Barry Robson – like so many anti-asbestos campaigners – bristles with anger at the mere mention of Robert Moore.
“If I ever see him again, I’ll spit in his face. To me it was a trust thing. You think that he was going to make this documentary on banning asbestos around the world… I’m so angry about it,” says Robson.
Laurie Kazan-Allen, whose near fatal heart attack Moore reported back to his paymasters, is bruised but undiminished in her conviction.
“Let the asbestos profiteers be warned,” she said at a recent conference. “Ours is a legitimate, grassroots campaign supported by thousands of individuals around the world. Poisoning for profits is reprehensible, unethical and indefensible. Industry stakeholders can no longer hide behind their wealth or positions; you cannot silence those who have stared death in the face as they watched loved ones die excruciating deaths from asbestos cancer. Ban asbestos campaigners will not be bullied or deterred from their efforts to make the world a safer place.”