‘Substantial’ payout in asbestos spying scandal

With offices in London, New York, Madrid, Geneva and Los Angeles, K2 Intelligence boasts it “is redefining 21st century corporate intelligence by combining deep subject-matter expertise with cutting-edge technology in an unprecedented way.”

But it’s not above a bit of old-fashioned spying. Which is why, in November 2018, K2 Intelligence found itself paying ‘substantial’ damages to five prominent anti-asbestos campaigners. The confidential settlement came after evidence emerged K2 had orchestrated a covert surveillance operation intended to undermine efforts to ban the deadly fibre.

One claimant, London-based Laurie Kazan-Allen, heads the respected International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS).  She is arguably the lynchpin and most influential figure in the global campaign against the cancer-causing fibre. The four others were Hazards magazine editor Rory O’Neill, along with lawyers Krishnendu Mukherjee and Harminder Bains, and Sugio Furuya, the Japan-based spearhead of Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN).

The campaigners took their legal case against K2, Matteo Bigazzi, K2’s executive managing director in London, and the hired infiltrator, former TV producer Robert Moore. The London high court heard details of ‘Project Spring’, where Moore was paid six figure sums for four years to infiltrate and spy on the campaigners’ anti-asbestos network, including secretly recording phone conversations and meetings.

K2 settled the legal action two years into the court proceedings, by which time the court had already heard the aim of K2’s espionage was to gather information about the campaigners, their methods, funding and future plans.

The majorasbestos producers are Russia, China and Kazakhstan. China uses its production internally. Russia and Kazakhstan, though, are big exporters. Included in K2’s strategy was gaining inside knowledge on chrysotile usage in Thailand and Vietnam, part of the asbestos industry’s Asia frontline where it is pursuing a well-resourced promotional drive. Asia is seen by Big Asbestos as a major developing market and key to its survival.

K2’s clients, which the global surveillance firm had tried strenuously to conceal, were revealed on the instruction of the high court to be Wetherby Select Ltd, a holding company in the British Virgin Islands; and Kazakh asbestos and employers’ lobbyist Nurlan Omarov. Also named as a client was Daniel Kunin, a US national and deal fixer whose mother, Madeleine, has served as a US ambassador and Vermont state governor.

Asbestos spy Robert Moore also targeted top people at the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) and its International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). WHO has maintained – contrary to frequent claims from asbestos lobbyists, who claim its expensively concocted asbestos ‘safety in use’ approach is supported by the agency – for over a decade that the only sure way to end the asbestos disease pandemic is to stop its use entirely.

And K2 client Nurlan Omarov, has been a visible lobbyist on the international stage for many years. The Kazakh industry lobbyist and representative of the massive Kostanai asbestos mine has been a repeat member of industry delegations that campaigned successfully to keep chrysotile off the UN’s Rotterdam Convention list of the extremely hazardous substances that require a ‘prior informed consent’ process prior to export.

But someone has to pay the price. Latest statistics suggest that global asbestos mortality could now exceed 300,000 deaths each year. These aren’t ‘good’ deaths. Asbestos deaths are frequently slow and cruel, bodies wracked with pain, choked and suffocated.  They are the true cost of asbestos.

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