UK phone hacking: Murdoch’s son to be arrested?

News International`s chairman James Murdoch may face prosecution and arrest over hacking charges.

Last Updated: Jul 09, 2011, 12:12 PM IST

Zeenews Bureau

London: Media baron Rupert Murdoch’s son and News International`s chairman James Murdoch is likely to face criminal charges and get arrested in connection with the phone hacking scandal engineered at the soon-to-be-defunct tabloid - News of the World, The Guardian reported on Saturday.

With the phone hacking scandal’s black shadow looming large on the United Kingdom’s largest media empire, James was compelled to announce on Thursday the shuttering down of the 168-year old tabloid.

The media scion, James Murdoch had been quoted in a press release as admitting that he personally and wrongly approved out of court settlements to phone-hacking victims.

Murdoch, who is the deputy chief operating officer of News Corp, had confessed that he misled Parliament over phone hacking, although he stated that he did not have the complete picture at the time. There have also been reports of employees routinely making payments to police officers in return for information.

So, the News Corp and James Murdoch face heightened probabilities of prosecution in both the US and the UK. The US’ legislation - Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) - is designed to stamp out bad corporate behaviour and carries severe penalties for anyone found guilty, and the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 outlaws the interception of communications.

So, the Murdoch junior now faces a tough ordeal of salvaging the biggest deal in the Murdochs’ history, a $12 billion takeover of British Sky Broadcasting, or BSkyB.

The arrest of ex-editor of the tabloid Andy Coulson, accompanied by two other arrests have oly added fuel to the fire which could finally engulf the hopes of Murdoch of emerging as the company’s decisive new leader and could plummet him to the status of a tainted son who mismanaged one of the greatest crises the family business has faced.

Meanwhile Rupert Murdoch has flown to London to deal with the escalating phone-hacking crisis.
The arrival of the 80-year-old News Corp chief executive follows the shock announcement on Thursday that he is shutting down the News of the World, the 168-year-old best-selling Sunday tabloid newspaper at the centre of the scandal.

After years of allegations about hacking the voicemail of celebrities and politicians in search of stories, the scandal reached a tipping point earlier this week when it was alleged that in 2002 the paper had listened to the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered, and even deleted some of her messages to make way for more.

That claim, and allegations that a growing list of victims included Britain`s war dead and the families of those killed in the 2005 London transport bombings, outraged readers and caused many brands to pull advertising from the title.

Murdoch, who began his British media arm in the 1960s, will be keen to save News Corp`s bid to buy the 61 percent of broadcaster BSkyB, which it does not already own.

Analysts and investors said the deal could be jeopardised if British regulators impose tougher rules in response to new concerns around News Corp`s dominance in British media.

Murdoch, who had spent most of the week at a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, has kept a low-profile since the scandal erupted. On Thursday, he refused to answer journalists` questions on the matter referring them to a Wednesday statement in support of News International chief Rebekah Brooks.

Coulson`s arrest by police on suspicion of conspiring in the illegal practice forced the British prime minister to defend his judgment while promising new controls on the British press.

In a sign of how the scandal could escalate further, The Guardian newspaper reported on its website that police were investigating evidence an executive at News International may have deleted millions of emails from an internal archive in an apparent attempt to obstruct investigations.

A spokeswoman for News International, Murdoch`s British media arm, said the allegation was "rubbish". She said: "We are cooperating actively with police and have not destroyed evidence."

Cameron said he took "full responsibility" for his decision to appoint Coulson, who quit the prime minister`s team in January when police reopened inquiries.

"Murder victims, terrorist victims, families who have lost loved ones in war... That these people could have had their phones hacked into in order to generate stories for a newspaper is simply disgusting," he said.

Cameron said only a new system of media regulation and a full public inquiry into what went wrong over a decade at News of the World and beyond would meet public demand.

"This scandal is not just about some journalists on one newspaper," Cameron said. "It`s not even just about the press. It`s also about the police. And, yes, it`s also about how politics works and politicians too."

In another indication of spreading fallout, police said they had arrested a 63-year-old man in Surrey, southern England over allegations of inappropriate payments to police. A police spokesman said the man was not a serving policeman.

News of the World and other newspapers have been accused of paying the police for information.

Police also raided another tabloid, the Daily Star, earlier on Friday over allegations of phone hacking.

Cameron said politicians of all parties had been in thrall to press barons for decades. He indicated a new assertiveness toward the Murdoch empire by withholding overt endorsement of News Corp`s bid for BSkyB.

Shares in the pay-TV chain fell 7.6 percent after the media ministry also said it would take events.

With Agency inputs