Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue pushes for secrecy in spying game with Bart Kolodziejczyk and Bjorn Winther-Jensen

Neale Prior
The Nightly
Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue has asked a judge to throw a veil of secrecy over spying on former scientists and their families as the company’s bizarre showdown over minerals processing technology takes a twist.
Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue has asked a judge to throw a veil of secrecy over spying on former scientists and their families as the company’s bizarre showdown over minerals processing technology takes a twist. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

Andrew Forrest says his flagship company Fortescue is investigating lawyers spearheading a contentious legal attack that allegedly began with spying on former workers and their families, including to Kmart and sifting through their mail.

Hours after Fortescue lawyers asked the for sweeping suppression orders over its private investigators’ activities, Mr Forrest said he was “surprised to learn of the surveillance”.

The Federal Court had been told earlier Wednesday that Fortescue was applying to keep secret 600 pages of reports outlining its surveillance on two Fortescue former Future Industries scientists, their wives and family members.

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On top of spy shots of wives and children revealed in an affidavit released by the Federal Court last week, a lawyer for the litigation target Element Zero claimed on Wednesday morning Fortescue’s surveillance included “following people to Kmart, sifting through mail and the like”.

In a statement released later, Mr Forrest stood by the legal action against Element Zero, his former lieutenant Michael Masterman and former Fortescue Future Industries scientists Bart Kolodziejczyk and Bjorn Winther-Jensen.

Fortescue’s executive chair said company’s lawyers had told him the surveillance on the families of Dr Kolodziejczyk and Dr Winther-Jensen was “necessary” for it gain Federal Court search orders.

But Mr Forrest said: “Fortescue’s external legal team have been reminded that they have an obligation to comply with the company’s values and their engagement is under review.”

Fortescue’s action was launched on April 29 but was kept secret while private investigators working for Fortescue kept watch on the homes and families of Dr Winther-Jensen and Dr Kolodziejczyk.

It gained orders from the Federal Court on May 14 to search the scientists’ homes and Malaga units occupied by Element Zero.

Images filed with the court included a surveillance shot of Dr Kolodziejczyk ‘s wife and what appears to be an out of date picture of Dr Kolodziejczyk with his daughter, now reportedly aged five.

The dossier included a private investigator’s shot of Dr Winther-Jensen, his wife and a teenage girl outside their Scarborough home.

That girl was presumed by a Fortescue letter to be the scientist’s daughter, but Dr Winther-Jensen’s lawyer told Justice Markovic the scientist’s 16 year old niece was pictured.

Lawyers working for Fortescue were required to identify potentially vulnerable who might be in the homes it was proposing to raid. Female solicitors were heard for each home raid, along with a child psychologist for the raid on Dr Kolodziejczyk’s home.

Element Zero barrister Chris McMenihem said Fortescue now wanted almost 600 pages of reports suppressed “solely on the basis that it is too difficult to redact addresses and identities, despite us having done that”.

Element Zero has filed a narrower suppression application that the court was told include a ban on publishing the images of children.

After Fortescue’s legal team attempted to point out the overlap between its broad secrecy push and Element Zero’s application, Justice Markovic said she would have to “resolve how much of the material is confidential”.

Justice Markovic pointed to a request to suppress the signatures of two people who had signed affidavits.

“Thousands of affidavits are filed in this court every day signed by individuals,” she said.

“Hundreds of judgments are released every week signed by our associates. People’s signatures are publicly available.”

She rejected the request by Fortescue’s barrister to put in place a temporary broad order until a legal showdown on August 19 related to the May 14 search and seizure orders.

The secrecy applications will be heard on August 1.

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