EXCLUSIVE: Australia’s richest person, Gina Rinehart, has sent a message through her company-secretary directly to True Crime News Weekly to distance herself from the Paladin Affair, after we revealed her family bodyguard had been involved with the shady company for over six years, including a year after his own tragic and mysterious death in 2014. Serkan Ozturk reports.
We knew plenty of people were reading our investigation last week into the Paladin Group – the little-known shell company that’s been handed almost half-a-billion taxpayer dollars to apparently provide security and garrison services for the 1,000 or so refugees the Australian Government has kept languishing on PNG’s tiny Manus Island.
While our reporting has helped heap further pressure onto the likes of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton as well as a coterie of PNG politicians, it has led others such as PNG’s former Prime Minister, Mekere Morauta, to call on Australia to “come clean” about its intentions in rewarding the hugely significant contract to Paladin about two years ago.
“What is being revealed in the Paladin scandal indicates that the Australian Government may be exerting improper financial influence on the Government,” Morauta said in a statement last week.
“At the very least it should explain why its usual procurement systems and processes have been abused or bypassed and why all the secrecy and spin.”
Former PNG prime minister, Mekere Morauta, wants to know why there is so much “secrecy and spin” over Paladin (Image: MekereMorauta.net)
Morauta said that it seems Paladin was being used as a means to “peddle influence” through prominent Papua New Guineans and the ruling PNC party of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
“The circumstances of the involvement of associates of Papua New Guinea leaders in Australian Government contracts with Paladin and others also needs to be investigated,” the current MP for Moresby North-West in PNG’s Parliament added.
Meanwhile, refugees still stuck on Manus, such as the award-winning author and journalist, Behrouz Boochani, say that local Paladin workers have this week begun protesting over poor pay and conditions.
Their actions come after the news reports of their company’s strange structure and ownership were widely shared across social media.
“The Paladin staff are protesting in Manus right now,” Boochani wrote over Twitter on February 26.
“This company has made $423m while paying local staff only $450 per month. People are very angry at this company and want to be respected. The big companies made the refugees and locals victims while they have made so much money.”
Refugees on PNG’s Manus Island report local Paladin staff have walked off the job, angered by reports of what their bosses have been up to (Image: Twitter / Supplied)
Images of a deserted refugee camp on Manus Island after local Paladin staff reportedly walked off the job on February 26 (Image: Manus Alert / Twitter)
Other refugees have as well reported that Paladin staff have deserted their posts.
“No one in this camps [sic] to help us on #Manus if some body sick no one here to take him to hospital because of this strike,” refugee Shamindan Kanapadhi posted on Twitter.
“No transport or emergency service.”
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But in a twist to rival any political thriller, it seems that among the hoi polloi who usually make up the bulk of our readers, at least last week, there was a certain mining magnate and billionaire heiress among them: a one Gina Rinehart.
We do hope she has been so impressed by our street-level, gonzo-style investigative journalism that she might consider becoming a proud subscriber.
For a few more days, just like everybody else she can even score an annual subscription for the bargain basement price of just ten dollars. And give herself the chance to score a $200 Westfield gift card. It’s a win-win.
Our investigation must have been considered an important bit of business for Rinehart. It seems there were a few things she wanted to clear up. An emailed message sent to True Crime News Weekly over the weekend suggests one of her most senior employees was given the task to complete by early on a Sunday morning. Couldn’t even wait for Monday seemingly.
In the email sent by Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd company secretary, Jabez Huang, True Crime News Weekly was warned off from implicating Rinehart in any of Paladin’s mess.
“We refer to your article, ‘The Dark Knights of Paladin – Mercenaries, Missing Millions, Money Laundering & the Minister responsible for one of Australia’s biggest scandals’, published in True Crime News Weekly on 18 February 2019,” Huang wrote in the email sent in the very early hours of Sunday, February 24.
“Please note that neither the Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd Group of companies (‘Hancock’) nor its Chairman, Mrs Gina Rinehart, has ever had any dealings with Paladin Group Pty Ltd, Paladin Aus Pty Ltd or any related entities (‘Paladin’).
“We had not even heard of Paladin (or Craig Thrupp) prior to the publishing of the article.
“Therefore, please refrain from implying online or in future that either Hancock or Mrs Rinehart has had any association with Paladin.”
We believe the message to be a strange and somewhat bemusing one because at no point in our extensive and wide ranging feature article did True Crime News Weekly suggest that “either Hancock or Mrs Rinehart” was intimately involved with Paladin’s business dealings.
We had only discussed the curious yet very factual link between Paladin and a former private bodyguard for Rinehart’s family, Jeremiah John Rouwhorst.
Our investigation revealed Rouwhorst had been a director of the Paladin Group along with Thrupp from mid-2009 until August 2015. That was despite dying in mysterious circumstances in London in early 2014 while employed as the personal bodyguard of Rinehart’s youngest daughter, Ginia.
It is believed he committed suicide, just two days after receiving a major bravery award from Australia’s Governor-General. Ginia was the first person to find Rouwhorst, who died three days later in hospital.
Jeremiah John Rouwhorst was a director of Paladin for over six years (Image: PNGi Portal / Supplied)
But that wasn’t the end of Huang’s message.
He also wanted to let us know the Rineharts still cared deeply for Rouwhorst.
“Further, as reported in the Australian Financial Review on 23 February 2019, please note that Mr Jerry Rouwhorst had fallen out with and was no longer associated with Craig Thrupp of Paladin since approximately 2010, years before any involvement with Hancock or Ginia Rinehart,” Huang wrote.
“Mr Rouwhorst is held in high regard by Mrs Rinehart and Hancock in view of his decorated military career including his Commendation for Brave Conduct awarded by the Governor-General of Australia.”
We found Huang’s directing of us to the Financial Review article a clever tactic. The article is a somewhat sanitised account of Rouwhorst’s involvement with Paladin, while even the last few days of his life are glossed over with no mention of any details of his tragic and mysterious death.
According to the Financial Review, Rouwhorst had fallen out with Thrupp – a fellow former ADF soldier who served in East Timor – by 2010. Just a year after getting involved in Paladin. But, for some still-unexplained reason, Rouwhorst remained a director of the company alongside Thrupp and the British-born Ian Duncan Stewart until his death in March 2014. And then, even more strangely, was still listed as a director for well over a year afterwards.
By 2012, a couple of years after his apparent falling out with Rouwhorst, Thrupp was trying to pass himself off as a slick insurance salesman with products targeted to mining companies in Indonesia. An article from the Engineering & Mining Journal from July 2012 quotes heavily from Thrupp who was busy talking up his new product known as ‘Asiasure’.
“You have a number of non-technical risks in Southeast Asia, such as political, competition, organized crime, and community relations. The ability to mitigate these risks is directly linked to investment success and return to shareholders, and the cost of mitigating these risks is usually borne by the investor and is not cost recoverable in original contract of work,” Thrupp told the magazine published by Global Business Reports.
“Over the past six years, clients have often come to us after an event saying they have a problem, but ultimately the cost has to be paid out of their pockets. Consequently, there was a demand in the market for a product that protected mining and exploration companies from bearing the financial burden of investing in Indonesia. Seeing this demand as an opportunity, we created Asiasure, which eliminates the uncertainty of these non-technical risks and brings certainty and security to investors. The product is fully cost recoverable, so it offsets the sovereign risk of investing in Southeast Asia.
“The way it works is that we look at a business and understand their objectives, as well as the non-technical risks facing it. Based on the risk profile a project, we offer a whole line of insurance products that financially indemnify the client. Where this is particularly relevant is where a mining company might have their mining license revoked by the local government.”
Paladin’s Craig Thrupp talking about his insurance products for mining companies in Indonesia in 2012 (Image: Supplied)
A map of countries in which Paladin has been involved in according to its website (Image: Supplied)
An earlier version of Paladin’s website at the www.PaladinGroup.net domain has the company claiming it has completed security projects in dangerous areas such as sub-Saharan Africa as well as warzones such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. According to the map, Paladin has also provided services in Fiji, East Timor and the Solomon Islands as well as PNG.
Thrupp himself has been banned from entering PNG after local politicians such as the country’s PM, Peter O’Neill, were angered by his attempts to employ security staff from Fiji rather than locals. It is believed Thrupp had reneged on a prior deal with PNG’s government.
To find out if Rinehart had any further thoughts on the matter, we sent a message to her via Huang.
We asked as to whether she believed it was odd for Rouwhorst to be a director of a company for over one year after his death, in light of his supposed falling out with Thrupp years earlier in 2010. We also asked as to whether she believed Rouwhorst may have been allegedly taken advantage of by Thrupp or others.
“As Mr Rouwhurst had fallen out with Mr Thrupp in around 2010 and was no longer associated with him (years prior to Mr Rouwhorst’s employment with Hancock), Mr Rouwhorst might not have known that he was still a director,” Mr Huang explained to us by email on February 26.
“In any event, Hancock has had no association with, and continues to have no association with, either Mr Thrupp or Paladin, and have not heard of either until your recent article.”
While Rinehart’s company say she is not implicated in any of Paladin’s business dealings in any way, and True Crime News Weekly has never made that claim, there is perhaps a small sliver of a chance that she may share in some of its business philosophy when it comes to paying for labour.
Back in 2012, Rinehart filmed a video which went viral and made headlines around the world after she suggested that Australian workers were overpaid and unproductive because they didn’t want to compete with Africans who are happy to work for not even $2 a day.
“Furthermore, Africans want to work, and its workers are willing to work for less than $2 per day,” Rinehart told the video filmed for Sydney Mining Club’s website.
“Such statistics make me worry for this country’s future.
“Our federal and state governments must know that now, more than ever, we must lift our international competitiveness just to stay as well-off as we are.
“And with state and federal debts, we must get realistic not just promote class warfare. Indeed, if we competed at the Olympic Games as sluggishly as we compete economically there would be an outcry.”
It has been revealed that most of Paladin’s staff in PNG are paid only $2 an hour.
One pay slip from May 2018 seen by True Crime News Weekly shows that for a 36-hour week, the employee was paid only about $51 after tax when the wage is converted from PNG’s Kina to Australian currency.
A Paladin paysheet which shows an employee earned only $51 after tax for a 36-hour work week (Image: Supplied)
While moved enough to defend Rouwhorst, others in Rinehart’s orbit have maybe been left out to dry.
If the message sent to True Crime News Weekly is any guide, it seems that Rinehart’s fondness for the disgraced former Deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce, could have fallen a little by the wayside.
Our feature on Paladin last week had included a throwaway line about Joyce needing to sober up in late 2017 before he realised that accepting a oversized, novelty cheque worth $40,000 from Rinehart was not a good look, and made him seem like a politician for sale.
There was no defence of Joyce’s character from Rinehart or others at Hancock Prospecting in the emailed message that was sent to us.
Interestingly, our investigation had also identified and named Rinehart as one of Australia’s principal funders of conservative political causes. It was a description Rinehart nor her company disputed in their early Sunday morning letter sent to True Crime News Weekly.