Rupert Murdoch’s former deputy was back at a police station today, answering her bail. This time, Mike Giglio reports, she was grilled about payments to government officials.
In 2003, Rupert Murdoch’s then-star editor Rebekah Brooks made a fateful appearance before Parliament, in which she boldly admitted that her reporters had paid police for information in the past. Brooks’s comments are now coming back to haunt her. Last month, a wave of arrests shook Murdoch’s flagship tabloid The Sun—which Brooks was editing at the time of her 2003 testimony, following a stint editing News of the World—as part of an investigation into whether journalists had paid police. After the arrests, lead phone-hacking investigator Sue Akers publicly denounced a “culture” of illegal payments at The Sun to the Leveson Inquiry, which is now examining the troublesome relationship between the British media and the country’s public officials.
Rebekah Brooks, the former News International chief, posted bail on March 14 following her arrest on charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. (Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images)
Now, it has been confirmed that Scotland Yard is also interested in questioning Brooks about payments to the Ministry of Defence.
Brooks was arrested last week, along with her husband, on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice. It was Brooks’s second arrest since the phone-hacking scandal broke last summer: the first came just days after she resigned as the head of News International, the U.K. arm of News Corp., last July. Today, she had to answer her bail for the July arrest, which she did at a police station in the borough of Milton Keynes, arriving at 10 a.m. in a black BMW, according to a local paper. As part of the bail questioning today, the British Press Association reports, police asked Brooks about payments to a source in the Ministry of Defence.
A Defence official was arrested last month in the same round of arrests that swept through the Sun’s upper ranks. (Scotland Yard also rounded up a police officer and a member of the armed forces that same day.) Scotland Yard isn’t the only agency looking into the activities of Murdoch’s tabloids. The FBI has long been reported to be investigating whether News Corp. is in violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which prohibits American companies from baying bribes to foreign officials. On Sunday, British papers reported that the FBI has told Scotland Yard it is “prepared to step in” if the British police fail to investigate the full extent of allegedly illegal activity in Murdoch’s tabloids. As Mike Koehler, an FCPA expert at Butler University, told The Daily Beast after last month’s arrests, the risk to News Corp. grows as the investigation expands from police to include the military and government. “The issue when it comes to executives will be, did they authorize the payments, or did they know about them but fail to put a stop to them,” Koehler said.
As Scotland Yard considers charging 11 in the hacking scandal, police have launched ‘Operation Sacha’ to investigate Brooks. Peter Jukes on how Murdoch’s protégé is in the hot seat.
Just weeks before she is expected to appear before a judicial inquiry into the British press, Rebekah Brooks, the highest-profile figure to be arrested in the phone-hacking scandal to date, is already feeling the heat. The former CEO of News Corp.’s U.K. arm and onetime editor of its now-defunct tabloid, News of the World, Brooks has already been arrested and questioned twice in the ongoing police investigations into potential wrongdoing in Rupert Murdoch’s British media empire. Now, according to the country’s top court official, police have dedicated a separate investigation to Brooks herself.
Keir Starmer, QC, who heads the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), announced today that Scotland Yard has handed four files to the CPS relating to 11 possible suspects in the investigations surrounding phone hacking. This means the police investigations into these specific cases are largely complete and that government lawyers will now evaluate the chances of a successful prosecution, bringing the cases one big step closer to court. "The decisions we are going to make are going to be extremely difficult and extremely sensitive," Starmer said.
Starmer refused to identify the individuals involved or detail the alleged offenses. Instead, he confirmed that only four of the 11 suspects were journalists, and that the cases related to five police operations—including two that were not previously known.
According to Starmer’s announcement, the cases related to Operation Weeting, the investigation into phone hacking; Operation Tuleta, into computer hacking; and Operation Elveden, into corrupt payments to police and other public officials. Starmer said that a fourth investigation, Operation Kilo, is looking into leaks from the phone-hacking investigation.
Carl Court, AFP / Getty Images
In a startling further admission, Starmer revealed that Rebekah Brooks, along with her husband, the racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, now have their own dedicated police investigation—Operation Sacha, which relates to last month’s arrests of the couple under suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice, a serious charge that carries a potential seven-year sentence, although the specific allegations underlying such a charge remain unknown.
Starmer also confirmed that one of the four current files relates to alleged attempts to cover up the scale phone hacking. The other three cases relate to potential misconduct under the data protection act, along with misconduct in a public office; potential witness intimidation and harassment; and a potential breach of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which relates to the interception of communications.
Last summer, Charlie Brooks became embroiled in the scandal following an unusual incident in a car-park near the couple’s London home. In the incident, he reportedly tried to reclaim a bag containing a computer, paperwork, and a phone that had been discovered in the car-park. Instead, security guards handed the bag over to the police. Charlie Brooks denied that the bag belonged to his wife, and his official spokesman, David Wilson, said that the bag contained “nothing to do with Rebekah or the [phone-hacking] case.”
Former Murdoch deputy arrested again.
Rupert Murdoch’s flame-haired former deputy Rebekah Brooks is back in jail, part of a police sweep that took in five others in an investigation into phone hacking at News Corp. Brooks’s husband, horse trainer Charlie Brooks, was also taken in. The arrests constitute the biggest haul since the beginning of the investigation; police say that several addresses related to the arrests were also searched. Brooks was editor of News of the World and then CEO of News International, Murdoch’s newspaper arm, until she resigned in July. She was arrested and bailed out last summer.
James was executive chairman.
James Murdoch is giving up his position as executive chairman at News International, the newspaper arm of father Rupert’s media empire. A statement from the company said that Murdoch “relinquished his position” but “will continue to assume a variety of essential corporate leadership mandates, with particular focus on important pay-TV businesses and broader international operations.” News International’s current chief executive will stay on. The latest investigations into wrongdoings at News International involve allegations of a rampant culture of illegal bribery payments.
Paying the ex-CEO a reported $5.6 million to leave and dropping millions more on other staffers buys the company claim waivers, confidentiality, and other benefits.
Taking a hit for News Corp. may be the best-paying gig in journalism. Rebekah Brooks, former CEO of the group’s News International unit, reportedly got £3.5 million, or about $5.6 million, for stepping down. Colin Myler, News of the World’s last editor, received £2 million. All told, News Corp. is believed to have paid £8.5 million to departing senior staff.
Don’t chalk it up to Rupert Murdoch’s generosity. He may not have had much choice in the phone-hacking scandal. Britain’s strong employee-protection laws mean that unless employers can prove they have a reason to dismiss an employee, they must either give the person advance notice or pay him or her.
Rebekah Brooks, former CEO of News International (Dave Thompson, Press Association / AP Photo)
News Corp. likely wanted Brooks gone in a hurry. It didn’t want to wait for a full investigation into her conduct, and it didn’t want to end up mired in litigation, so it paid her and sent her away. Seen in the light of U.K. employment law, says Samuel Estreicher, director of New York University’s Center for Labor and Employment, the payoff may not have been as extravagant as it seems.
Nevertheless, it was a large severance package for Brooks, and it likely got News Corp. more than just her resignation. Erika Collins, a partner in the employment department of the Paul Hastings law firm in New York, says Brooks almost certainly had to sign a waiver of any claims against News Corp., confirming she could never sue the company.
News Corp. likely also demanded a nondisparagement clause, saying Brooks could never speak ill of her former company. Such a clause could apply forever, so not only would Brooks be barred from running to The Guardian and trash-talking her former employers now, she’d be prevented from writing a scandalous tell-all decades from now. Brooks may have asked for a mutual nondisparagement clause, says Collins, but it’s not clear that News Corp. would give it to her.
Brooks likely also signed a confidentiality agreement, says Robert Bartlett, a professor at Berkeley Law. Not only would it keep her from talking about her employment at News Corp., it would keep her from talking about the settlement agreement that keeps her from talking about her employment at News Corp.
Neither the confidentiality obligation nor the nondisparagement clause will help Brooks before Parliament. There’s usually an exception for legal process written into these clauses, says Bartlett, and even if there isn’t, no settlement agreement would be able to prevent an employee from cooperating with the law.
As News Corp.'s annual shareholders meeting approaches, the question on everyone’s lips: will the House of Murdoch fall. Long-favored son (and heir apparent) James teeters on the edge, and Rupert is still trying to convince all comers he’s more gaga than gung-ho, reports Nicholas Wapshott.
When will James Murdoch be arrested? Alone among those Rupert Murdoch claims to have let him down in the firestorm over journalistic ethics that is engulfing his media company, his son James has so far avoided the attention of Scotland Yard detectives.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
Others close to the gnarled 80-year-old—his trusted lieutenant Les Hinton, his flame-haired editrix Rebekah Brooks, and Colin Myler, the editor of the scandal sheet News of the World whose criminal practices led to its closure after 168 years—have accepted some responsibility for the mess and find themselves rich but jobless. When the cheery Hinton arranged to meet a pal in an Upper East Side Starbuck’s, he quipped, “I’m the one who looks retired.”
The arrest of James Murdoch, until earlier this year his father’s favorite and the unrivaled heir apparent to the worldwide media empire, has moved sharply closer with the admission by a London-based attorney, whose company represents News Corp. and Queen Elizabeth, that Murdoch Jr. misled the parliamentary committee investigating the hacking. One committee member cheekily suggested a headline: “Queen’s solicitors knew News of the World was lying to Parliament—but did nothing about it.” James Murdoch will return next month to face more cross-examination from the peeved parliamentarians.
And it will be James Murdoch, too, who can expect the toughest ride when shareholders meet on Friday at the News Corp. AGM in Los Angeles. To be helpful, The New York Times, long the butt of Murdoch’s acerbic New York Post, reported that father and son are now at each others’ throats and spend days not talking. “You’re coming back to New York or you’re out,” Rupert is said to have snarled at James, whom he suspected of setting up a rival power base in Europe. “This is one company, not two. And it is run out of New York.”
News Corp AGMs are usually lame, ill-attended affairs, with a benign Rupert indulging shareholders who complain about Fox News or a new Fox movie. This time, though, the theft of private phone messages from celebrities and victims of crime, among them a murdered schoolgirl, promises to turn the snooze-fest into a circus. Angered by his rough treatment at the hands of the Brits, whose bobbies could not save him from having a plate of shaving foam pressed in his face, Murdoch has insisted there can be no repetition of what he described in July as “the most humble day of my life.”
To this end, the AGM, once held in the tranquil Asia Society on Park Avenue, has been switched to the safety of the Fox movie lot in Los Angeles. There is nothing like a media company in deep trouble for keeping journalists from doing their jobs. Reporters, just one per publication, armed with photo ID and credentials, must assemble at a parking garage to be bussed in to the studio, to dodge the protesters expected at the gates. The press may not ask questions at the meeting. The company that founded the Fox network, Fox News, and Fox Business insists that no TV cameras record the scene. As a concession to those unable to trek to the Coast, there will be an online audio stream.
Murdoch’s siege mentality is understandable, perhaps, in face of the unprecedented assaults on a company led by a man who is more used to dishing the dirt on his opponents than on ducking incoming flak. One set of shareholders is suing News Corp. because it is deemed to have overpaid for Shine, Rupert’s daughter Elizabeth’s London film company that gave her $214 million clear profit. Citing “rampant nepotism,” the writ says that “Murdoch has treated News Corp. like a family candy jar, which he raids whenever his appetite strikes.”
As new phone-hacking victims sue.
Thirteen new people who say News International hacked their phones have field suit against the company ahead of an approaching deadline. They include Shaun Russell, the father of a young girl who survived being attacked with a hammer while her mother and sister were killed. Sara Payne, whose “Sarah’s law” campaign against pedophiles was a pet project of Rebekah Brooks at News of the World, also sued, along with Princess Diana’s former butler Paul Burrell and pop star Dannii Minogue.
Before she was arrested last summer, former News International Executive Rebekah Brooks addressed the News of the World Staff to mark the tabloid's folding. Listen to what she had to say.
The ex-CEO’s wild red mane at a Parliament hearing was ballsy—and unwise.