Murdoch Paper Hired Private Eye To Get P.E. Boss' Hotel Bill

May 29 2012 | 1:18pm ET

Rupert Murdoch's News International employed a private detective to acquire, possibly illegally, a New York private equity manager's London hotel bill.

While media attention has focused on the so-called phone-hacking scandal, in which Murdoch's newspapers illegally tapped the phones of politicans, royalty, celebrities and the parents of murdered children, an early Murdoch effort to gather information via unsavory means led private detective Steve Whittamore to Robert Agostinelli, of Rhone Group.

According to British authorities, Whittamore ran a "Claridges blag" on Agostinelli; "blag" means using a fake identity to get information. Whittamore managed to obtain a July bill of £3,433.98 for a four-day stay by Agonstinelli at Claridge's Hotel, in a room with a rate of £411.25 per night.

Agostinelli, who lived in New York at the time of the stay, now resides in London.

Whittamore was convicted in the U.K. of trading illegally-obtained information. He was arrested in 2003; the entry on Agostinelli, which does not appear to have resulted in a published news item, was collected some time before that. The so-called Whittamore database compiled by British authorities does not specify what year Agostinelli ran up his bill at Claridge's.

It is among the first pieces of evidence that Murdoch's information-gathering enterprise was transatlantic, although authorities are looking into whether News International targeted victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The reporter whom the database said commissioned the Agostinelli "blag" has denied ever having heard of the private equity honcho.

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