Ian Burrell: Murdoch has two worries: the reaction of his readers – and the US authorities

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Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers got her shot off first. The Sun newspaper, she said, operated a "culture of illegal payments" which it distributed to "a network of corrupted officials".

The terminology, with all its connotations of an organised corporate policy, could hardly have been more damaging for the publishers, News Corporation, which is terrified of the effects of potential legal action in the United States.

The timing was equally galling, just as The Sun was preparing to announce the success of its new Sunday edition.

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corp, is in London overseeing that defiant project.

His fingers must have been hovering over the keyboard as he prepared to announce on his Twitter account that the new paper had sold a hefty 3.26 million copies.

But DAC Akers was first to the draw. She told the Leveson Inquiry that one public official had received £80,000 in illegal payments and one Sun journalist had lavished £150,000 on payments.

The systematic behaviour she was describing placed the bribery scandal on a level comparable to the phone-hacking culture that existed at the News of the World.

None of this squared with the tone of the inaugural Sunday edition of The Sun, which attempted to convince readers that the newspaper was beginning a "new era".

Yesterday afternoon, Mr Murdoch responded to DAC Akers' evidence with a statement that the practices she referred to "are ones of the past, and no longer exist at The Sun." He then tweeted the new circulation figures with the triumphant message: "Sorry if sold out – more next time."

He will be hoping that readers of The Sun remain unconcerned by "illegal payments" and "corrupted officials".

But the American authorities may take a different view.

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