Exclusive: Channel 4 News reveals a new front in the Murdochs' legal woes as the Serious Fraud Office begins a preliminary investigation into News International.

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First there was the Metropolitan Police investigation into phone hacking. Then it was an investigation into the payment of police officers for information.

But now, and potentially most concerning to Newscorp shareholders, the focus has moved to the company finances. Channel 4 News has learnt that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is making preliminary inquiries into News International.

Investigators are looking at many cases involving News International to establish whether a full formal investigation is required.

The former minister Tom Watson, wrote to the SFO's Director urging him to investigate alleged breaches of Company Law at News International, relating to payments made after the phone hacking scandal. He said the payments were a "gross misuse of shareholders' money".

Mr Watson's letter raised questions about the secret payments made to hacking victims.

The SFO would not confirm or deny any investigation, as is normal practice.

Faisal Islam writes on the SFO developments:

Although the stories about hacking your phones and bung policemen will capture the headlines, the money trail might prove more toxic.

If the Serious Fraud Office launches a full investigation about misuse of shareholders' money as suggested by Tom Watson MP, this will play into the hands of some News Corp shareholders angry about the power of the Murdochs.

The SFO might also become the agent of any US based inquiries by the likes of the Department of Justice.

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