Business Secretary Vince Cable feels "vindicated" over his dealings with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, as links between the global media giant and the Conservative Party come under more intense scrutiny.
The Liberal Democrat big-hitter was stripped of overseeing New Corp's bid to buy out BSkyB after telling undercover reporters he had "declared war" on Murdoch's empire. But he said he had been "independent and objective" and handled the bid in a "proper and fair way".
His comments appear to further undermine Prime Minister David Cameron and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who are under fire for being too close to News Corp. Mr Cable said he tried to keep News Corp at "arm's length".
He declined to discuss Mr Hunt's conduct when he was pressed during a TV interview yesterday, saying that the Culture Secretary would give his own defence to the Leveson Inquiry in due course.
However, with former News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson due to give evidence under oath to the ongoing inquiry into press ethics later this week, the Government is likely to come in for more criticism before Mr Hunt has the opportunity to testify.
Yesterday's development came as details emerged of a meeting between Jose Maria Aznar – a member of News Corp's board – and Mr Cameron, George Osborne and William Hague only weeks after Mr Murdoch's Sun newspaper ditched its support for Labour to back the Tories.
The meeting, revealed by The Independent on Sunday, was in November 2009 when Mr Cameron was seeking media backing in the run-up to the 2010 general election which led to him becoming Prime Minister.
Significantly, it was arranged by News Corp lobbyist Frédéric Michel, whose emails with Mr Hunt's private adviser, Adam Smith, led to calls for Mr Hunt's to quit when they were published by the Leveson Inquiry.
Mr Smith has resigned but Mr Hunt refuses to quit, saying that his evidence to Leveson will prove he is innocent of wrongdoing. A photo (left) of Mr Cameron meeting Mr Aznar, a former Spanish Prime Minister, emerged last night.
Mr Michel, whose emails to ex-BSkyB chairman James Murdoch implied that Mr Hunt was privately supportive of News Corp's controversial bid, has been dismissed by some Conservatives as a "fantasist". But the fact he was able to arrange such a meeting with the future Prime Minister shows he held some sway.
Mr Aznar, a non-executive director at BSkyB, has a powerful position in its hierarchy. Last June he joined Mr Murdoch when he came to London in advance of Mr Hunt's scheduled announcement on whether News Corp's takeover would be approved – only for the decision to be put on ice as details of the phone-hacking scandal emerged.
A Downing Street spokesman said all contact with the media company had been declared correctly.
"The Prime Minister has had no inappropriate discussions about the BSkyB bid, either as Prime Minister or before. He deliberately excluded himself from the process," he said.Reuse content