Originally created 01/31/98

News agency puts 3 on leave for probe



NEW YORK -- Reuters Holdings PLC said Friday it placed three employees on paid leave at a U.S. subsidiary as a federal grand jury investigates whether it stole information from its biggest rival in the financial data business.

At issue is whether the venerable British news agency swiped secrets from U.S. upstart Bloomberg LP to get more of its high-priced computer terminals on the trading desks of the world's financial houses.

The $6 billion business of providing arcane investment data has always featured fierce competition among some of the most recognizable media giants. Now, it has become a battle for survival.

The New York Times reported Friday that investigators have evidence that Reuters used electronic break-ins to mine Bloomberg's files. At least one undercover informant monitored developments, the report said.

Also, confidential data obtained from Bloomberg may have reached the offices of top Reuters executives, the Times said, citing unidentified sources.

The Wall Street Journal reported that a person familiar with Bloomberg believes the investigation concerns one or more employees who joined Reuters after developing analytical models used on Bloomberg terminals.

Reuters has said it is cooperating with the federal grand jury investigation in New York and has hired lawyers to conduct its own investigation, but has provided few details. In London, company spokesman Peter Thomas declined comment on the Times report.

But Mr. Thomas said three people at the subsidiary, Reuters Analytics Inc. of Stamford, Conn., have been placed on paid leave.

He would not identify them or say what positions they hold. Robert Crooke, a Reuters spokesman in New York, said the three still were performing "a variety of tasks and projects" for the company while on leave but were not working from their offices.

Reuters Analytics was formed after the 1993 acquisition of Capital Markets Decisions Inc. The unit was trying to develop a database for a "Bloomberg Killer" service for the new Reuters 3000 terminals.

Bloomberg declined comment for a second straight day Friday.

At the center of the intrigue are desktop devices that spew out current prices of stocks, bonds, currencies, commodities and complex derivatives. They also are used for historical data and to perform analytical chores.

Coming SundayEconomic espionage, or corporate spying, is a growing business that costs companies billions, an Atlanta expert said while in Augusta. And it is happening more frequently than many people realize -- even in the Garden City. In Business