Wellard rival’s ‘spy’ claim

Rueben Hale, Nick Butterly and Andrew ProbynThe West Australian
Business: Wellard exports cattle to Vietnam.
Camera IconBusiness: Wellard exports cattle to Vietnam. Credit: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

Live animal exporter Wellard has been accused of hiring private investigators to gather damaging information about its competitor’s operations in Vietnam.

South East Asian Livestock Services claims rival Wellard asked the investigators — one of whom is a former senior WA police officer — to collect evidence of animal cruelty at its Vietnamese feedlots to hurt its business.

But it appears the alleged surveillance operation was bungled, with the Australians being arrested by Vietnamese police.

The case raises further questions about the integrity of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, the live export regime introduced by the Gillard government in an attempt to stamp out animal cruelty.

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One of the investigators has been identified as Eddie Rowe, a former member of the WA homicide squad and State security team. The second is believed to be a licensed investigator from WA.

Mr Rowe once led the police investigation into the disappearance of teenager Hayley Dodd.

After an investigation by The Weekend West, Wellard denied hiring the pair, saying they were employed by a third party.

SEALS executive Peter Cory said his company believed the men were employed by its rival and that Wellard was attempting to hurt Australian competitors by recording animal welfare breaches.

Mr Cory said it was generally accepted that all exporters were having “problems” in Vietnam, but that those problems should be “kept between exporters”. He said SEALS and other exporters had evidence that Wellard “are not 100 per cent clean either”.

Under ESCAS laws companies must report “breaches” in their export supply lines as soon as they are aware of them.

Documents show Vietnamese police arrested Mr Rowe and another man on April 7, along with a local man Duong Hai Thanh, while they were allegedly attempting to photograph and film activities at a Vietnamese feedlot run by one of SEALS’ clients.

Under questioning, Mr Thanh told police he had been paid VND10 million ($600) by a man called Mr Viet to take two Australian men to Hoang Trung Limited Company feedlot to take pictures and “send them to the Australian Government”.

Mr Cory said he had demanded Wellard explain its activities and drop its “holier than thou attitude”.

“When you ask for proof, they say ‘We can’t supply that (proof) because it will incriminate our sources’,” he said.

Wellard chief operating officer Fred Troncone denied his company had contracted private investigators but said he was aware a complaint had been made Vietnamese police. He said the suggestion Wellard would “spy” on a competitor was a fantasy.

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