A bizarre web of legal cases involving corporate spying and one of Washington, D.C.’s top lobbying firms has piqued the curiosity of a Congressional committee that has broad oversight powers.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, this week sent a letter to a lawyer whose client is suing the lobby firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers and Diligence, a corporate intelligence boutique also based in Washington, D.C.
The letter was sent to Gordon Dobie, a partner with Winston & Strawn, which represents IPOC, a Bermuda-based hedge fund. In its lawsuit, IPOC alleges that Diligence employees, working for Barbour Griffith & Rogers and its client Alfa Bank, impersonated U.S. and British intelligence agents to covertly obtain proprietary information through IPOC’s auditor.
“I request that you provide the Committee with any information and documents in your possession or control relating to these allegations,” Waxman wrote to Dobie. Waxman’s letter cited a BusinessWeek magazine story from Feb. 26 that detailed how a Diligence employee, impersonating a British MI5 agent, coaxed a KPMG employee to turn over private IPOC data.
“The article alleges that Diligence engaged in corporate espionage against IPOC and its auditor, KPMG ... through an operation it referred to as ‘Project Yucca,’ ” the Waxman letter adds.
Diligence settled a lawsuit already with KPMG, but many of those records about Diligence’s work for Barbour Griffith and its client, Alfa, remain sealed.
The Waxman inquiry, sources familiar with the litigation say, could result in making those documents public and possibly exposing more details about a matter already filled with plenty of intrigue and putting a lobbying firm in the unenviable situation of going under the Congressional microscope.
“We are pleased that the Committee is looking into the Diligence-Alfa Group fraud,” Dobie wrote in a statement provided to Roll Call. “We will comply fully with Chairman Waxman’s request for more information.” (Waxman’s letter asserts the chairman’s power to subpoena the documents.)
A committee spokeswoman said it was “too early to know” what the committee might do with the information.
IPOC, which court documents filed by Barbour Griffith attorneys called “a money laundering front,” and Alfa both were trying to buy a Russian company called MegaFon in 2005 when court documents say Diligence orchestrated “Project Yucca.”
“The Committee will further learn how Alfa Group, its lobbyists and their agents broke U.S. laws and undermined national security by impersonating federal agents, and is alleged in litigation to have harmed a business rival by committing a billion dollar fraud,” Dobie added in his statement.
Edward MacMahon Jr., a lawyer representing Barbour Griffith, said he was not aware of the request from Waxman.
“I don’t know that anybody at the firm has been contacted,” he said. Lawyers for Diligence did not return calls seeking comment. Barbour Griffith also did not return a call seeking comment.
According to sources familiar with the documents that are to be turned over to Waxman’s committee, the documents will include a sworn affidavit that details how Diligence employees pretended to be CIA agents to get secret IPOC information and information on other companies. The currently sealed documents also will show that Diligence employees and at least one KPMG employee were tape-recorded, and that the tape was played for at least one Barbour Griffith employee, said two sources familiar with the content of the documents.
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