A payment to a British police force by a News Corp company accused of using piracy to crack a rival pay-TV service could be studied by US authorities investigating whether Rupert Murdoch's conglomerate broke America's strict anti-corruption laws, a former US Department of Justice lawyer claimed yesterday.
As revealed in yesterday's Independent, Surrey Police confirmed it had received £2,000 from the Surrey-based technology company NDS in 2000 for use "in the fight against organised crime". NDS said the payment ordered by its security chief Len Withall – a former Detective Chief Inspector at Surrey Police – following "some work", was a "one-off charitable donation" and produced an acknowledgement letter.
Bradley Simon, a former lawyer at the US Department of Justice, was reported as saying that the US authorities would be interested in the payment: "The DoJ is focused on payments to officials. The DoJ feels a lot of pressure to make cases when there is a lot of scrutiny."
NDS explained that the payment was a one-off and a spokesman for Surrey Police – which failed to take action against the News of the World despite knowing it had hacked the phone of the missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002 – said yesterday: "We can't find any other records of payments. It appears it was a one-off payment, but we are still looking into it."
News Corp, which has assets of $60bn, is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police in the UK for phone hacking, computer hacking and bribery and by the FBI and the Department of Justice in the US for corrupting British officials, including police officers – illegal under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. News Corp also faces a police inquiry into alleged piracy against pay-TV rivals in Australia.
The BBC's Panorama claimed this week that NDS had undermined a rival to News Corp's BSkyB network, ITV's OnDigital, by leaking its security details onto the Internet, allowing viewers to access its shows for free and partly causing its downfall. NDS denies any wrongdoing.
After Panorama was broadcast on Monday, Rupert Murdoch said News Corp would "hit back hard" at what he said were "lies and libels".