11.20.12

Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson Face Bribery Charges

Shelling out $160,000 for information? Paying for the royal-family ‘Green Book’? Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson face bribery charges. Peter Jukes on the latest embarrassment for Murdoch and Cameron.

The former CEO of News International, Rebekah Brooks, and David Cameron’s former chief press officer, Andy Coulson, were told by Alison Levitt, QC, principal legal adviser to the crown prosecution service, that they faced additional charges of illegal payments to public officials.

Both Brooks and Coulson have already been charged with multiple instances of phone hacking and are due to stand trial in September next year, with Brooks facing additional charges of attempting to cover up the scandal when it emerged in summer 2011. Coulson faces perjury charges relating to a phone-hacking trial in Scotland.

Coulson faces charges of conspiring with Clive Goodman, the former royal correspondent of the now-shuttered News of the World, to pay for the “Green Book”—a directory of all contact details for the royal family and household. Goodman is, so far, the only News International employee to be jailed over phone hacking. He was sentenced to eight months in 2007 for accessing phone messages of aides to Prince William and Prince Harry, and when the sentence was passed, Andy Coulson resigned from his editorship of News of the World. Six months later he became David Cameron’s communications supremo. For the next four years, News International claimed Goodman was one “rogue reporter.”

Brooks is charged along with John Kay, chief reporter of Murdoch’s popular British daily tabloid, The Sun, for conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, for payments totaling approximately $160,000 to a Ministry of Defence employee, Bettina Jordan Barber. The money was allegedly for a series of stories that appeared in The Sun from 2004 to 2011.

Tuesday’s charges refer to only five of the 54 individuals so far arrested and questioned under Operation Elveden, Scotland Yard’s investigation into corrupt payments at News International, News Corp.’s dominant publishing subsidiary, which commands over 40 percent of Britain’s national newspaper readership.

With Monday’s New York Times reporting that Rupert Murdoch has his “mojo back” after a difficult sixteen months since the phone-hacking scandal erupted in London, the reminder of the alleged criminal activity of his former top confidante and executive, Brooks, will come as a unwelcome nudge regarding trials and further investigations that could last for years on both sides of the Atlantic.

As reported exclusively on The Daily Beast, there are further allegations that The Sun paid a U.S. military official for photographs of Saddam in his underwear while in American captivity, which were simultaneously published in The New York Post.

Since those revelations News Corp. has refused to deny a U.S. military payment was made, but called the revelation a “lame attempt to resurrect old news.” The Daily Telegraph reported that the transaction took place in California, but sources inform The Daily Beast that the money could have been paid to the U.S. official outside the United States and therefore be difficult to trace.

Given the simultaneous publication of the Saddam photos in New York and London, however, there is always a possibility that an email discussion about the transaction and publication took place among senior executives. If so, a record of this could remain on “Datapool 3”—some 300 million emails from News International that have been the main source of evidence for the current corruption charges.