James Murdoch stepped down from his post as News International executive chairman yesterday morning after details came out about allegations of bribery at The Sun, a tabloid newspaper published by News International in London. This is just the latest in a series of tumultuous events surrounding News Corporation -- News International's parent company, founded by James's father, Rupert Murdoch.
The Guardian reports that on Sunday, just hours after Rupert Murdoch's "defiant gamble of launching a Sunday edition of The Sun, the head of the police investigations into illegal behaviour by journalists spelled out startling details of what she called a 'culture of illegal payments' at the title." According to British Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, one public official was blessed with more than £80,000 ($127,600) in cash payments from the newspaper.
The cases are not about drinks or meals (or even hookers) but ones "in which arrests have been made involving the delivery of regular, frequent, and sometimes significant sums of money" to a "small network of corrupted officials," according to Akers. In turn, these officials provided The Sun with "salacious gossip," among other things, including, in former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks's case, the use of a police horse.
"There appears to have been a culture at the Sun of illegal payments," Akers said, "and systems have been created to facilitate such payments whilst hiding the identity of the officials receiving the money."
Also according to Akers, "retainers" appear to have landed in the pockets of all manner of police officers and other officials -- one Sun reporter paid out more than £150,000 ($239,260) over time -- in an apparent mutual backscratching arrangement whereby the reporters would get inside information and the officials were free to plant stories in the tabloid that were not checked too carefully. Just one private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, received more than $1.5 million for his hacking. And it turns out that police informed Brooks, Rupert Murdoch's most trusted lieutenant, way back in 2006 of evidence of illegally hacking the phones of literally dozens of celebrities, including athletes and politicians.
Legal scholars agree that the language of Akers's testimony is an all-but-engraved invitation to the U.S. Justice Department to begin investigations of Murdoch properties under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, which carries potential fines of hundreds of millions of dollars if News Corporation is not able to demonstrate that that it has cooperated in seeking to uproot this behavior. This is especially treacherous because unless it can show it has cooperated vigorously with the authorities in rooting out malpractice, News Corporation can be assumed to be guilty of allowing it to happen.
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