News Corp.’s British publishing unit said it’s aware London police are considering whether corporate charges may be brought against its board over phone hacking at its now-defunct News of the World tabloid.
The Metropolitan Police Service in London is being advised by prosecutors on potential corporate offenses against the unit, News International, Sue Akers, the force’s deputy assistant commissioner leading the probe, told Judge Brian Leveson at an inquiry into media ethics on July 23.
“We are aware of the reference made by DAC Sue Akers in her evidence to the Leveson Inquiry and noted also that she agreed that the current senior management and corporate approach at News International has been to assist and come clean,” News International said in a statement today.
About 60 people have been arrested since police started probes last year into phone hacking and bribery at News Corp. tabloids. Eight former journalists were charged last month with conspiring to intercept voice mail, including former News International Chief Executive Officer Rebekah Brooks and former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who later became a press adviser to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron.
While it’s possible a company’s controlling officers could face criminal claims for offenses related phone hacking, prosecutors would need to be sure any individuals charged were actually aware of wrongdoing, said Matt Bosworth, a regulatory lawyer at Russell-Cooke Solicitors in London.
Lawyers for News International protested to police about the possibility of corporate charges that could be aimed at the board of directors, which has included News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son, Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch, the Guardian newspaper reported today.
“We’ve sought legal advice and in respect of both individual and corporate offenses, and also in relation to our police powers and our options for investigating,” Akers said at the time.
The press office at the Crown Prosecution Service, which is filing charges against individuals in the case, declined to comment on the probe.