FSA considering investigation into Hunt and Smith


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The Independent Online

The City watchdog may investigate Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his adviser over whether the secret briefing of News Corp during the company's £8bn bid for BSkyB amounted to "market abuse".

The Financial Services Authority is understood to be concerned that emails from Mr Hunt's special adviser, Adam Smith, contained financially-sensitive information which should not have been released to the Murdoch empire.

Mr Hunt, right, yesterday failed to quell concerns about his integrity, despite the resignation of Mr Smith, following the release of hundreds of emails which appeared to show that the Cabinet minister's inner circle gave News Corp an inside track on the progress of its bid – a breach of its quasi-judicial role.

Meanwhile, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has handed a dossier of material about the £8bn BSkyB takeover to the Leveson Inquiry. The dossier is understood to include emails and correspondence with Mr Hunt's office and News Corp. The OFT is one of several regulators examining the handling of the buy-up.

It also emerged yesterday that the Mr Hunt spent five days in the US holding meetings with News Corp at the same time that Rupert and James Murdoch were deciding whether to bid for BSkyB.

Mr Hunt also personally exchanged several text messages with the News Corp lobbyist Fréd Michel while the Culture Secretary was adjudicating on the bid. One said: "Hopefully when consultation over we can have a coffee like the old days!"

The involvement of the FSA will be a major concern for the Government. It is understood to be looking at several emails which suggest that Mr Michel, was given advance details in January last year of an announcement that the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, had significant concerns and wanted a further investigation of the bid by the Competition Commission.

Downing Street yesterday attempted to close down demands for an official investigation on whether Mr Hunt had broken the ministerial code by insisting it did not want to prejudice Mr Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry.

The FSA last night declined to comment.