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FBI Said to Defer to Scotland Yard in News Corp. Bribery Probe

The FBI isn’t planning to mount an aggressive investigation into allegations that News Corp.’s payments to U.K. police officers a decade ago violated a U.S. overseas bribery law, two law-enforcement officials familiar with the matter said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation will let Scotland Yard take the lead on the investigation, which is already under way in the U.K., said the officials, who didn’t want to be identified because they aren’t allowed to discuss the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation.

London police are investigating allegations of widespread hacking by reporters from the now-closed U.K. tabloid News of the World. Scotland Yard is also investigating allegations that individuals at the paper paid British police over several years for information about ongoing criminal investigations and the lives of the Royal Family.

This month, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg called for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the possibility that payments to U.K. police could be considered a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The FCPA prohibits U.S. companies from paying bribes to officials of foreign governments. On July 15, Holder confirmed the existence of an “ongoing investigation.”

Some lawyers question whether the law, used primarily to punish bribes to obtain business, would apply to paying police officers for information.

“The FCPA is not a global statute governing all corrupt activity in the world,” said Steven Peikin, a former federal prosecutor now at Sullivan & Cromwell. “It would seem to me that if you’re paying off a police official to obtain information, that would be a stretch. It’s not the heartland of conduct that the FCPA was intended to reach.”

Teri Everett, a News Corp. spokeswoman, didn’t immediately return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment on the U.S. probe.

Alisa Finelli, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment.

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