Adani’s new lawyers proposed ‘attack dog’ plan to wage legal ‘war’

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A group of about 20 protesters stand with signs that read "stop Adani".

Lawyers for mining firm Adani proposed waging “war” on opponents of its controversial Queensland mine by using the legal system to pressure government, silence critics and financially cripple activists, according to documents obtained by the ABC.

Key points:

  • Law firm AJ & Co promised to be Adani’s “trained attack dog”
  • The firm launched bankruptcy proceedings against an Indigenous mine opponent
  • Head of commercial litigation Alex Moriarty quit after a falling out over strategy

The draft copy of Adani’s new law firm’s aggressive strategy to bring the Carmichael mine to life is labelled “Taking the Gloves Off” and outlines a commercial proposal by AJ & Co to win a multi-million-dollar legal contract with the Indian mining giant.

In the document, the Brisbane firm promised to be Adani’s “trained attack dog”.

The strategy recommended bankrupting individuals who unsuccessfully challenge Adani in court, using lawsuits to pressure the Queensland Government and social media “bias” as a tool to discredit decisionmakers.

In a section called “Play the Man”, it recommended “where activists and commentators spread untruths, use the legal system to silence them”.

It also urged Adani to hire private investigators to target activists and work “with police and a criminal lawyer to ensure appropriate police action is taken against protesters”.

Draft legal strategy document for mining firm Adani

“Like a well-trained police dog, our litigations know when to sit and shake, and when it is time to bite,” the law firm promised.

“To achieve its commercial goal, Adani needs to accept it is involved in a war.”

The AJ & Co plan pledged to “assess each battle as part of the overall war” and to “know when to negotiate and known when all out attack is required”.

An Adani spokeswoman said “we won’t apologise for pursuing our legal rights”.

“Like many organisations, we have a panel of law firms that service our business on a wide range of matters to ensure we are complying with Australia’s legal and regulatory frameworks,” the Adani spokeswoman said.

“We will not comment in detail on the legal firms we use, their marketing material and any matters where they may represent us or advice we may receive.”

Lawyer quit firm over strategy

The ABC can reveal AJ & Co’s former head of commercial litigation, Alex Moriarty, quit after an internal falling out over strategy in the wake of the proposal.

Profile image of solicitor Alex Moriarty.

Mr Moriarty — who did not leak the planning document and now runs his own legal firm — also alleged he was assaulted by a colleague who confronted him over dealings with Adani, a complaint that Queensland police were investigating.

The ABC understands the alleged incident did not involve physical contact.

Mr Moriarty said he disavowed the “aggressive commentary” at the heart of the proposal, and that he believed it “tends to bring the legal profession into disrepute”.

“Corporate lawyers who describe themselves as their client’s ‘trained attack dogs’ and to use overtly aggressive terms like ‘taking the gloves off’ and ‘playing the man’ … can only harm their client’s reputation,” he told the ABC.

“Such comments tend to damage the professional independence and integrity of the legal profession as a whole.”

The AJ & Co proposal suggested Adani “not settle for government departments dragging out decisions — use the legal system to pressure decisionmakers”.

It also argued that “social media is a tool to use against activists and decisionmakers”.

“Look for evidence of bias and use it to show the court system is being used for political activism,” the law firm wrote.

Since it was engaged by Adani, AJ & Co has pushed to bankrupt a cash-strapped Indigenous opponent of the mine, threatened legal action against a community legal service and an environmental group, and applied to access an ABC journalist’s expenses and documents.

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad told the ABC she believed it was “clear that their strategy has been activated … and we should be concerned”.

“We’ve seen the attacks on government — they clearly don’t like the role that the independent regulator [the Department of Environment and Science] is performing in terms of using science to make recommendations around final approval,” she said.

“I mean, seriously, what’s Adani going to do next? Are they going to start pressuring the CSIRO around the ground water management plan?

“And quite frankly, I am quite alarmed by some of the language used in the report like pursuing individuals so that they become bankrupt.

“I, like most Australians, don’t want to see us go down an Americanisation path of heavy litigation and corporate attack.”

Adrian Burragubba from the W&J traditional owners holding a media conference, flanked by other W&J members

Murrawah Johnson from the anti-Adani faction of the mine site’s traditional owners, the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J), told the ABC that in recent months “Adani’s strategy has definitely changed — it’s become more aggressive”.

On Adani’s behalf in December, AJ & Co launched bankruptcy proceedings against vocal W&J opponent Adrian Burragubba over unpaid legal costs.

“My uncle Adrian has been public enemy number one for Adani,” Ms Johnson said.

“Going after him, I think, has been their plan all along — to essentially stamp out our resistance to the coal mine going ahead on our country.”

A day after the ABC revealed Adani was under investigation for alleged unlawful site works, AJ & Co wrote to Queensland’s Environmental Defenders Office (EDO).

EDO chief executive Jo Bragg, who commented in the ABC story, said the letter was “clearly designed to intimidate us”, although she declined to elaborate.

“It appears Adani has built an entire, well-funded strategy around hiring lawyers to bully community groups into silence,” she said.

Adani's draft legal strategy on social media

AJ & Co later applied under federal Freedom of Information laws to access ABC journalist Mark Willacy’s expenses, and documents relating to the story.

In November, AJ & Co demanded environmental campaigners Market Forces abandon a trip to South Korea with W&J opponents to lobby banks not to invest in Adani.

Market Forces executive director Julien Vincent said the law firm accused the campaigners of injurious falsehood, unlawful conspiracy to cause economic loss to Adani and threatened legal action.

“It was pretty aggressive,” Mr Vincent said.

“It came across with a tone that had little substance to back up the allegations it made, and was quite threatening in the steps that would be taken if we didn’t comply with everything they wanted.”

A barrister for Market Forces told AJ & Co its allegations were “doomed to fail” and no more was heard from the firm.

Mr Vincent said Adani’s mine was “a massive public issue … and it is entirely reasonable for people to speak up and voice their concerns”.

An AJ & Co spokesman said “we don’t discuss matters which may relate to clients”.