Former Murdoch Aides to Be Charged With Bribery

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LONDON -- In a new turn in the scandals swirling around Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper outpost, prosecutors said on Tuesday that two former top executives would be charged with paying bribes of up to $160,000 to public officials, in addition to several earlier charges against them.

The Crown Prosecution Service identified the onetime aides as Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, both of whom have had close personal or professional ties to Prime Minister David Cameron. Mr. Cameron hired Mr. Coulson as his director of communications while in opposition and kept him on after coming to power in the 2010 elections.

On Tuesday, Mr. Coulson, 44, a former editor of a Murdoch tabloid, The News of the World, denied two charges relating to periods before he joined Mr. Cameron's staff in 2007, and said he would fight them in court.

Ms. Brooks, 44, who is accused of conspiring with another journalist to pay $160,000 over seven years to a Defense Ministry official, was a neighbor and personal friend of Mr. Cameron.

In one of several inquiries into the hacking scandal, she testified in May that she and Mr. Cameron kept in touch by telephone, text message and e-mail, meeting at lunches and dinners and socializing at parties, summer outings and Christmas celebrations.

The charge of bribing a Defense Ministry official is potentially the most serious of all those drawn up by prosecutors so far in the scandal that has enveloped the Murdoch media empire in Britain.

Under a new bribery act passed by Parliament in 2010, described by British legal experts as one of the toughest statutes of its kind anywhere, the maximum penalty for bribing a public official is 10 years in prison and an unlimited fine, but the statute also provides for much lesser penalties.

The accusations seem certain to precipitate a new debate about the practice known in Britain as "checkbook journalism," common for many years, under which editors, reporters and investigators have paid sources clandestinely for information, or provided them with other benefits. A defense often made of the practice has been that the information obtained in this way serves the public interest, particularly when a resulting article exposes waste or dishonesty in public office.

The Crown Prosecution Service said on Tuesday that Mr. Coulson and Ms. Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, the British newspaper subsidiary of Mr. Murdoch's News Corporation, were among five people to be charged as part of a police inquiry called Operation Elveden. The investigation ran in parallel with other investigations related to a phone hacking scandal that led to the closing of The News of the World.

 Among the five were Clive Goodman, a former royal correspondent at The News of the World, who served a brief jail term in 2007 for hacking into voice mail accounts in the royal household. A sixth potential suspect, apparently a public official, is still being investigated.

Mr. Coulson was deputy editor of The News of the World from 2000 to 2003 and editor from 2003 to 2007, when he became Mr. Cameron's spokesman. He resigned from that post in 2011 as the hacking scandal intensified. The charges against him relate to two periods between August 2002 and January 2003 and January and June of 2005, before he joined Mr. Cameron's office, the prosecutors said.

When he hired Mr. Coulson, Mr. Cameron said he accepted his aide's assurances that he was not involved in any criminal wrongdoing while editing The News of the World. But the Labour opposition has frequently accused Mr. Cameron of poor judgment for taking him on and defending him before he quit.

Ms. Brooks, who was editor of The Sun tabloid from 2003 to 2009, will face charges along with John Kay, the newspaper's chief reporter from 1990 to 2011, and an employee of the Defense Ministry, Bettina Jordan-Barber.

Ms. Brooks is among a group of former Murdoch employees who are to face trial next year on charges related to the scandals.

Altogether, more than 50 former newspaper executives, lawyers, editors, reporters and investigators have been arrested and questioned in extensive police inquiries.

Before her fall, Ms. Brooks was a close confidante of Mr. Murdoch and one of the most powerful figures in the British news media. Over nearly 20 years with the company, she rose rapidly to become editor of The News of the World, a weekly, and later of The Sun, Britain's most widely circulated daily paper, before being promoted to chief executive of News International in 2009.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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