When the Australian state of New South Wales announced last week that two local residents had contracted a “double mutant” strain of COVID-19, they provided only a few details about the infected couple.
The man and woman were in their 50s, officials said. They’d contracted a concerning variant from India known as B.1.617.2. And while infectious, the man had visited four BBQ joints, two of them franchises of the grill supply store “Barbeques Galore.”
The announcement drew national attention, in part because it preceded a new lockdown on residents of the greater Sydney area, as health officials remained uncertain of how the couple had contracted the new and deadlier variant. In the interim, Sydney locals coined a nickname for the husband, known then only as Patient X: BBQ Man.
On Sunday, the BBQ man was revealed by The Australian Financial Review to be Tom Pizzey, a managing director at Apollo Global Management—the investment firm whose co-founder, Leon Black, resigned in March over payments totaling $158 million to Jeffrey Epstein for tax advice. The firm has just two employees in Australia, according to the Review; the so-called BBQ Man is one of them.
Pizzey did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment, but a spokesperson for Apollo told the Beast that the company would not discuss staff members’ medical history. The spokesperson confirmed that the company was assisting the state health authorities’ investigation into the outbreak and that he had not been on any international trips in 2021.
According to the Review, the BBQ Man embarked on his smoked meat spree in part to secure a new BBQ for himself, but also to appraise Barbecues Galore, which the investment firm reportedly plans to buy. The Apollo spokesperson denied that Pizzey had visited to do “due diligence” for a deal. “Not his role and not true,” she wrote.
The revelation of BBQ Man’s identity became an immediate cause for controversy. A health administrator in New South Wales told The Guardian that the disclosure was “appalling” and could undermine public health by discouraging citizens from cooperating with contact tracers. But the Review stood by the piece as newsworthy.
“[The executive] is a prominent businessman involved in a number of key business transactions and it was newsworthy and in the public interest to explain his movements given the ongoing reporting around the visits,” a spokesperson told The Guardian.
According to earlier Guardian reports, Pizzey had been “very active in the inner east” region of Sydney, and had made the investigation easier by consistently using the venue QR codes set up in each business he visited. In addition to the two Galore franchises, he stopped by a store called Joe’s Barbecue and Heating, another called Tucker Barbecues, and a third, non-BBQ-related location called The Meat Store.
Authorities linked the genomic sequence of his positive test to a man who had travelled from the United States earlier in the year. The man tested positive during his mandatory hotel quarantine, so the question of how the couple might have contracted the strain remains unclear. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the health department had not yet identified the “missing link,” as of Sunday.
Premier Berejiklian also announced that restrictions would remain in place for an extra week, according to The Daily Mail. Under the new rules, masks are required in all public indoor venues and on transportation, household visitors are limited to 20 guests, and visitors at elder care facilities are limited to two people per day. Indoor participation in drinking while standing up, singing, or dancing is also off limits.