URG security firm in bid to muzzle Baghdad embassy staff

URG security firm in bid to muzzle Baghdad embassy staff

  • Paola Totaro
  • The Australian
  • February 9, 2016 12:00AM

The Australian embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.

The private security company in charge of protecting Australia’s embassy in Baghdad has moved to muzzle its staff, asking them to sign strict nondisclosure contracts or face dismissal.

The action came after a second whistleblower wrote to Tony ­Hughes, the embassy’s regional security adviser, offering to ­divulge details of a litany of secu­rity, weapons safety and diplomatic breaches by Unity Resources Group, a Dubai-based company. The Australian last month ­reported that the head of the ­embassy’s clinic resigned in protest after the company failed to provide up-to-date medical ­insurance and the necessary medical supervision to operate a clinic safely and legally.

She provided DFAT with a five-page statement and a dossier of documents outlining a series of breaches under the protection of the Public Information Disclosure Act. It included ­details of the company’s repeated failure to check the qualifications of its elite protection staff, including one “medic” later found to be bogus.

Provision of a medical unit forms an integral part of the $51 million contract under a new, three-year agreement with URG. The company charged $91m for the same services to 2015. Since, one of its longest serving operations managers has written to DFAT ­officials offering to provide a ­detailed statement outlining breaches by the company.

A former tactical and special operations officer with 22 years’ policing experience, he was a member of the core team that helped URG step in to take over embassy protection services in 2010 in the wake of the military withdrawal. He was removed from his position last year.

The Australian has reported that complaints about URG to DFAT span several years and ­include a 19-point statement from Mike Stewart, a former Australian SAS officer with 23 years’ operational experience. He first ­addressed concerns to senior DFAT officials in 2012.

The nurse was the third clinic head to quit in protest at the downgrading of qualifications and accreditation of frontline care by URG. A second specialist nurse left in January, citing serious concerns about safety, qualifications and procedures. The previous clinic head, a respected British paramedic who spent four years in the job, was ­abruptly removed just 20 minutes before going on scheduled leave 18 months ago.

URG has not made any ­comment despite the extraordinary situation of an ­embassy in a conflict zone without medical cover. A spokesman from DFAT said: “The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is aware that a nurse has resigned. If any ­information were to have been provided by the resigning nurse within the provisions of the Public Information Disclosure Act, it will be dealt with accordingly.”

 

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