News Corp. faces possible corporate charges related to phone hacking and bribery, prosecutors said during the eight-month trial that led to the conviction of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson.
On several occasions throughout the trial, prosecutors raised the prospect of corporate charges without giving details about when a decision would be made on whether to file an indictment. Former senior officials at News Corp.’s U.K. unit have been questioned by British police relating to the charges.
London police also want to interview News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch as a suspect in the phone-hacking probe, the Guardian newspaper reported yesterday, without citing sources. The interview will take place in the U.K. in the near future, the newspaper said on its website.
Rebekah Brooks, former head of News Corp.’s U.K. publishing unit, was found not guilty yesterday by a London jury of phone hacking, bribery and perverting the course of justice. Coulson, who later became a media adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron, was found guilty of one count of phone hacking. The verdicts were the result of a scandal that erupted three years ago upon revelations that News of the World reporters hacked the phone of a murdered teenager, Milly Dowler.
James Kennedy, a New York-based spokesman for News Corp., didn’t respond to requests for comment. Murdoch’s son James, may also be questioned, the Guardian said.
Earlier yesterday, the company’s U.K. unit said in a statement after the verdicts that the company has paid compensation to phone-hacking victims and has cooperated with investigations.
“We said long ago, and repeat today, that wrongdoing occurred, and we apologized for it,” News UK said in an e-mailed statement. “We made changes in the way we do business to help ensure wrongdoing like this does not occur again.”
During previous testimony to the U.K. Parliament and a judicial inquiry into press ethics, Murdoch had denied he had any knowledge of wrongdoing at company newspapers.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Service in London declined to comment on the Guardian report. Jurors are still deliberating on bribery charges against Coulson and Clive Goodman, a former reporter at the News of the World.
The corporate charges were referenced several times when jurors were outside the courtroom. Judge John Saunders said the possible prosecution of the company was the reason behind the decision of News Corp.’s U.K. unit to cut back on its cooperation with police last year.
“The reason for the change was that News International became aware that consideration was being given to a corporate prosecution,” Saunders said in a March 25 ruling on evidence disclosure. “They were perfectly entitled to change their policy, but it certainly made the life of the police more difficult in obtaining material.”
The discussions about a corporate case was among several issues that couldn’t be reported until the jury delivered its verdict, under U.K. laws designed to ensure a fair trial.
The guilty verdict with respect to Coulson makes it more likely a corporate prosecution can be made against News Corp.
A successful corporate prosecution could lead to members of the board who are seen as the “controlling officers,” facing charges, according to guidelines set out by the Crown Prosecution Service.
News Corp. said in a corporate filing in May that U.S. prosecutors were also investigating issues related to its U.K. newspaper operations.