Brooks, Coulson Charged in News Corp. Tabloid Bribe Probe

Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive officer of News Corp. (NWSA)’s U.K. unit, and Andy Coulson, who edited the company’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid, were charged in a bribery probe, police in London said.

Brooks and Coulson, who quit last year as Prime Minister David Cameron’s press chief as the scandal unfolded, conspired with two News Corp. reporters to pay public officials for stories as early as 2002, the Crown Prosecution Service said today. Brooks paid 100,000 pounds ($159,000) to a defense ministry employee, while Coulson swapped cash for a palace phone directory for the royal family and their staff, the CPS said.

The former executives were charged by police today after prosecutors said in a formal decision that Brooks and Coulson should face claims they conspired to commit misconduct in public office. The two reporters and the defense employee involved in the case should also be charged, the CPS said.

The charges stem from a police probe into News Corp.’s best-selling Sun daily tabloid and the News of the World, which Chairman Rupert Murdoch closed last year to help quell public anger over a related phone-hacking scandal. The affairs have cost New York-based News Corp. at least $315 million in civil settlements with victims, legal fees and other costs.

Brooks and Coulson, both 44 years old, will appear at a court hearing scheduled for Nov. 29, police said today. They are already due to stand trial in London for parallel phone-hacking offenses in September, along with a dozen other people. Prosecutors haven’t said if hearings on the new bribery claims may overlap or if the cases will be combined for some defendants. More people could be charged in both cases.

‘Extremely Disappointed’

“I am extremely disappointed by this latest CPS decision,” Coulson said in a statement e-mailed by his law firm, DLA Piper LLP. “I deny the allegations made against me and will fight the charges in court.”

Paul Askew, a spokesman for Brooks’s law firm, Kingsley Napley in London, declined to comment in an e-mail.

Police have arrested 52 people in the bribery probe, known as Operation Elveden, including more than two dozen News Corp. journalists and at least two reporters from competing tabloids published by Trinity Mirror Plc (TNI) and Northern & Shell Plc. All three companies are cooperating with the investigation.

April Casburn, a detective chief inspector with the London police, was charged in September with offering to sell information to the News of the World, making her the first person charged in the bribery probe. Health-care workers, prison employees and other police officers have also been detained.

Charges

Brooks, who edited the Sun from 2003 to 2009, and John Kay, its chief reporter for more than two decades, face a single charge of conspiring to pay Bettina Jordan Barber, the defense ministry employee, for a series of stories from 2004 through 2011, according to the CPS. Barber faces the same charge.

Coulson, the News of the World’s editor from 2003 to 2007, and Clive Goodman, the title’s former royal family reporter, face two charges of conspiring to pay public officials for information, including the phone directory, on two occasions in 2002 and 2005. Coulson was deputy editor starting in 2000.

Goodman and former private detective Glenn Mulcaire pleaded guilty to phone-hacking charges in 2006 -- when the scandal was in its infancy -- and served several months in prison after an earlier probe into voice-mail interception involving the royal family. Coulson resigned from the title in response, and later went to work for Cameron’s Conservative party.

All five people in today’s charging decision will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court to hear the charges read, though a date hasn’t been determined, according to the CPS.

Kay, 69, also appeared in a police station today and paid bail to stay free until the Nov. 29 court hearing, the Metropolitan Police said in an e-mailed statement.

Daisy Dunlop, a spokeswoman for News Corp.’s U.K. unit, News International, declined to comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Larson in London at elarson4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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