Murdoch private eye targeted U.S. hedge fund boss

Fri May 25, 2012 1:42pm EDT
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By Mark Hosenball

(Reuters) - A private detective working for Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers used a legally questionable tactic to obtain a hotel bill that a New York financier ran up at one of London's swankest hotels, records reviewed by Reuters show.

A database of business records compiled by British government investigators shows that some time before his arrest in March 2003, private investigator Steve Whittamore, or someone working for him, misrepresented themselves to obtain from Claridge's Hotel a copy of a bill belonging to Robert Agostinelli, an American who runs the Rhone Group private equity firm.

Whittamore was convicted of trading in illegally obtained information but did not serve jail time. He could not be reached for comment.

Agostinelli did not respond to messages left for him at Rhone Group offices in New York and London.

He is a former senior partner at Goldman Sachs and Lazard and ranks among the richest financiers in the world.

The Whittamore database entry on Agostinelli is one of the few pieces of evidence to surface from extensive U.K. investigations that Americans were targeted by operatives working for Murdoch's British newspapers, who used questionable investigative techniques.

Murdoch's News Corp newspapers in Britain are among the principal targets of a judicial inquiry, created by British Prime Minister David Cameron and chaired by Sir Brian Leveson, a senior English judge, into the practices and ethics of the British press.

A spokesperson for News International, Murdoch's London-based newspaper publishing arm, said: "The information you refer to was the subject of a report by the Information Commissioner's Office in 2006 and has been examined extensively by the Leveson Inquiry in recent months. News International has given detailed evidence on these matters."   Continued...

A still image from broadcast footage shows News Corporation Chief Executive and Chairman, Rupert Murdoch, speaking at the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the media, at the High Court in London April 26, 2012. REUTERS/POOL via Reuters TV