James Cusick: From Sicily to the US courts – the trail of evidence could hit Murdoch where it hurts

 

News Corporation cannot afford to put a foot wrong. However uncomfortable the fallout from the phone-hacking scandal has been for Rupert Murdoch in the UK, wider questions about the way News Corp has been governed now hold the potential to do serious damage to the company's global brand.

In the United States, the FBI has already investigated the possibility that journalists or commissioned private detectives may have hacked into the voicemails of 9/11 victims. Lawyers at the centre of the phone-hacking scandal in the UK have also opened channels of communication with US counsel.

The US Department of Justice is already in receipt of evidence from Scotland Yard about its investigation into corruption and bribery of police and officials. And in Mr Murdoch's own backyard, allegations of anti-competitive practices involving a marketing division of News Corp have seen the attack dogs of the FBI sent out to sniff.

The Independent has learnt that officials from the Department of Justice have also been monitoring the court case in Sicily. Although Sky Italia and NDS have no formal involvement in the proceedings, and there is no suggestion that the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act apply in a case concerned with the hacking and piracy of television encryption technology, the legal antennae of the DoJ's lawyers are now tuned to any allegations even tangentially linked to the Murdoch empire.

That sensitivity applies to News Corp itself. It is most likely coincidence, but after the phone-hacking scandal accelerated last July with the revelations surrounding Milly Dowler – and Tom Mockridge was sent to London to clean up Wapping – a decision was taken to begin off-loading News Corp's share in NDS.

The new owners, Cisco, say NDS is a strategic fit. The commercial distance that now exists between News Corp HQ and events in Sicily will nevertheless be seen as a positive, if accidental, outcome.

The arrest after arrest of News International journalists, alongside former Murdoch executives sweating about what the future holds, means that anything on Mr Mockridge's Sky Italia watch will be scrutinised to the extreme.

No allegations have been raised against Mr Mockridge in the Italian case, and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing. But a trial threatening to expose the underworld of hacking will not be easy reading for the new regime at Wapping.

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