Murdoch flies in as News Corp faces first US lawsuit

 

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The Independent Online

The lawyer who was instrumental in exposing the full scale of phone hacking inside News International is in the "advanced stages" of bringing his first case against Rupert Murdoch's company in the US, i has learnt.

The prospect of Mark Lewis supervising legal action in the US will do little to reassure the embattled board of News Corp that a new front on illegal practices is about to open in their own back yard. US authorities, including the FBI, are already accelerating their own inquiries into the Murdoch empire over alleged violations of US law on corrupt payments to foreign officials.

With the arrest of five more senior Sun journalists over the weekend on suspicion of corruption and conspiracy – adding to the four former and current Sun employees arrested last month – a visit to London this week by News Corp's chairman and CEO, Rupert Murdoch, is already being viewed, according to one executive, as "five-star crisis management", with the future of The Sun on the line.

Sources close to Mr Lewis's legal team have already scheduled key meetings in New York to take place within the next few weeks. Although US investigators have so far found little evidence to support allegations that News Corp journalists illegally accessed the voicemails of 9/11 victims or their families in the US, the FBI has remained focused on allegations of bribery and illegal payments.

An email sent to News International staff over the weekend by chief executive Tom Mockridge emphasised that News Corp had "empowered" an independent body, the management and standards committee (MSC), to co-operate fully with the police.

News Corp's board, including Mr Murdoch and his son James, are potentially liable under US corrupt practices law if they knew about or authorised bribes and failed to stop them. The scale of the arrests, allied to information supplied to the police by the MSC, suggests that News Corp is making it clear to the US Department of Justice that after a decade of silence on illegal practices, it is changing its culture.

A spokesman for News International denied that Mr Murdoch's visit to London this week was solely about the new wave of arrests. He said the meeting was scheduled and re-emphasised Mr Murdoch's "total commitment" to continue to own and publish the paper.

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