Espionage probe into oil employee

LEIGHTON KEITH
Last updated 05:00 09/10/2012

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New Plymouth police are investigating an allegation of industrial espionage within the oil and gas industry.

The Taranaki Daily News understands the case involves allegations that a former employee of Tag Oil took inside information when he left to work for New Zealand Energy Corporation earlier this year.

Both companies' head offices are based in Vancouver, Canada, and both are involved in the exploration for oil and gas in Taranaki and New Zealand.

Detective Senior Sergeant Grant Coward, head of the New Plymouth CIB, said inquiries began more than a month ago after police were approached by a Tag Oil representative.

"Police can confirm that there is an investigation under way but it is in its early stages," he said.

Counsel for the man under investigation, Susan Hughes QC, said any comment on the specifics of the allegations needed to come from Tag Oil.

"They are their allegations to make.

"All I can say is that they are strenuously denied and complete co-operation with the authorities has been offered by the man in question," Ms Hughes said.

"[He] has nothing to hide and is entirely confident that he will be exonerated in the fullness of time."

Tag Oil chief operating officer Drew Cadenhead would not say how long the employee had been with the company or what information he was alleged to have taken.

"There's an ongoing police investigation and I'm afraid that I can't comment on it at all other than to agree with the police that there is an investigation ongoing and that's all I can say right now," Mr Cadenhead said.

NZ Energy Corporation chief operating officer Ian Brown said the company was not under investigation.

"It is an employment matter between Tag and their [former] employee and we will have to wait and see what happens," Mr Brown said. "If the police are investigating, I guess that they are doing their job then."

Mr Brown said the employee was not headhunted by NZEC, had applied for a job and was still working for the company.

He didn't believe the investigation would tarnish NZEC's reputation and would not speculate what would happen if the employee was charged and was subsequently found guilty.

"We will have to wait and see what happens."

The Taranaki Daily Newsapproached the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand to try to gain some insight into how closely oil and gas companies guarded commercially sensitive information and research and development in the billion-dollar industry.

Despite not seeking any information specific to the case, spokeswoman Deborah Mahuta-Coyle said the organisation could not comment due to the ongoing police investigation.

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NZEC's New Zealand country manager, Chris Bush, is the chairman of PEPANZ.

- Taranaki Daily News

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