Murdoch, the 81-year-old chief executive of New York-based News Corp., has been beset for many months by the scandal, which involved illegal prying by his British newspaper journalists and hired investigators into the phone accounts of hundreds of British celebrities, executives and newsworthy individuals. British investigators are also looking into accusations of widespread bribery of police and government officials and a coverup by executives of Murdoch’s British newspaper arm, News International.
The fallout hasn’t traveled across the Atlantic to the United States, where Murdoch and News Corp. own their largest and most profitable assets, including Fox News Channel, the Fox broadcast network and the 20th Century Fox studio.
But Justice Department attorneys and the FBI have been investigating whether any phone hacking took place on American soil, including the phones of families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The investigation began last summer after the British scandal exploded. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has met with some of the victims’ families, and investigators followed up as recently as March, according to Norman Siegel, attorney for a group of 24 people related to the victims.
“From everything we know, [the investigation] is ongoing,” Siegel said.
News Corp. also faces a separate federal investigation into the bribery allegations in Great Britain. The question under review is whether payments made by News International’s journalists to British officials for story tips and other information constitute a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, an American anti-bribery statute. Violations of the law can result in criminal prosecution, although the circumstances suggest that News Corp. would be more likely to face questions in a civil proceeding, said Richard L. Cassin, a lawyer who writes a blog about the FCPA.
The parliamentary report issued Tuesday was far harsher than most British observers had expected. It was approved by a 6 to 4 vote, with the four members from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party staunchly objecting to the description of Murdoch as an unfit proprietor.
The report says Murdoch had “turned a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness” over the phone hacking, which took place at his now-closed News of the World tabloid. “This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organization and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International,” it says.
The 121-page report includes a catalogue of criticisms, accusing three senior figures at News International of misleading the committee. The three include Les Hinton, the former head of News International, who the panel said was “complicit” in a coverup. The lawmakers also said Colin Myler, the former editor of News of the World and now editor at the New York Daily News, and Tom Crone, the tabloid’s former legal manager, “answered questions falsely” while testifying before the committee. Still, their “reluctance” to be honest with the committee was “understandable,” the panel said, given Murdoch’s “fearsome reputation.”