London: Scotland Yard is investigating media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper empire as a corporate suspect in phone hacking and bribery offences.
The Metropolitan Police has opened an "active investigation" into the corporate liabilities of News International, recently re-branded as News UK, which could have wider implications for the ability of its parent company News Corp to operate in the US.
Scotland Yard had launched an investigation in January 2011 into claims that journalists at Murdoch's now defunct 'News of the World' tabloid had been illegally accessing mobile phone voice-mail messages to find news stories.
The phone-hacking investigation led to the closure of the paper as well as further inquiries into claims that reporters had also made illegal payments to police officers and other public officials for information.
Until now, the investigation appeared to be focused on News Corp employees rather than the company as a whole.
But, according to The Independent newspaper, it has emerged that one of Murdoch's most senior lawyers has been interviewed under caution on behalf of the company and two other very senior figures have been officially cautioned for corporate offences.
Under British law, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) can treat a company as a "legal person" who is "capable of being prosecuted".
A company can be found guilty if any potential offender can be established as the "directing mind and will" of the organisation.
Lawyers for the Met Police identified News International as "suspects" as long ago as October 2011.
The force is believed to have warned News Corp that its UK subsidiary, which publishes 'The Sun', was under formal investigation on May 18, 2012.
A month later, Murdoch announced he was splitting the global empire, separating his television and film assets including 21st Century Fox and Fox News into a separate entity from the troubled newspaper group.
"We have cooperated with all relevant authorities throughout the process and our history of assistance is a matter of record," a News UK spokesperson said.
More than 125 people have been arrested and over 40 charged with offences, including senior figures and journalists from Murdoch's British papers, as part of the phone-hacking scandal inquiries in Britain.
First Published: Saturday, August 17, 2013, 18:17