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Murdoch sends in his top lawyer to stop Sun scandal spreading to US

  • @iburrell

Rupert Murdoch has assigned his most senior News Corp lawyer to the London-based committee overseeing the phone-hacking scandal as prospects increased that litigation against the global media company would spread to the US.

Gerson Zweifach, who was appointed as News Corp's general counsel last month and who has vast experience in anti-trust law, has joined the company's Management & Standards Committee (MSC). The MSC is housed in Wapping but is independent of the British newspaper business News International in east London. The extension of Mr Zweifach's role comes as News Corp faces the danger of the US Justice Department bringing charges against the company, under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, in the wake of a series of arrests of journalists at The Sun as part of a Scotland Yard investigation into alleged bribery of public officials.

Last weekend it emerged Mark Lewis, the lawyer acting for many of the litigants in the phone-hacking scandal, was in "the advanced stages" of bringing a case in the US. 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 continued to monitor allegations of bribery and illegal payments to public officials made by News Corp employees. Mr Zweifach joining the MSC is a further indication that News Corp is gearing up for a high-profile legal battle.

Rupert Murdoch has now flown in to London as the scandal that began with phone hacking now threatens to engulf another of his prized media brands.

Mr Zweifach, 58, who is a graduate of Yale Law School, spent 29 years at the leading Washington law firm Williams & Connolly and is a veteran of anti-trust and media cases. Most famously he represented the New York Stock Exchange chief executive Richard Grasso in a civil trial brought in 2004 by former New York state attorney general Eliot Spitzer to recoup much of Grasso's $187.5m pay package. Mr Zweifach won the case.

He succeeds Lawrence "Lon" Jacobs, News Corp's long-standing former General Counsel, who stepped down in June, before the Milly Dowler revelations raised the phone-hacking issue to a new level of risk for the News Corp empire.

Mr Zweifach's involvement with the MSC shows News Corp is determined to continue the work of the committee, despite fierce criticism from journalists in Wapping. The MSC, which was set up last year and is based in offices close to News International journalists, has handed a cache of about 300 million internal News International emails to the police, resulting in the arrests of former and existing News International staff.

When Mr Zweifach took up the post of General Counsel, he said he was joining News Corp at a "pivotal time in its history". He said: "It would be hard to imagine a more compelling opportunity to have far-reaching impact across a variety of legal issues and challenges." Mr Murdoch described Mr Zweifach as "one of [America's] leading litigators".