9 Jul 2013

Police to investigate Rupert Murdoch’s knowledge of bribes

Rupert Murdoch is to give evidence to MPs over revelations in a recording broadcast by Channel 4 News, as it emerges police are to investigate what he knew about payments to police and officials.

The new investigation into the media mogul’s role in payments to public officials, together with his invitation to appear again before the Commons culture, media and sport committee, follow a Channel 4 News broadcast of a secret recording of Mr Murdoch speaking candidly to a group of journalists from the Sun newspaper in March this year.

The tape, obtained by the investigative website Exaro, was requested by police investigating payments to public officials by journalists.

Exaro said that a detective chief inspector on Operation Elveden made clear that the audio of Murdoch’s comments was relevant to its investigation because it “may contain evidence of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office”.

The new line of police inquiry follows demands from MPs Tom Watson and Ben Bradshaw that the tape should be in the hands of the police for their investigation.

It comes exactly two years after the closure of the News of the World, at one time the jewel in Mr Murdoch’s newspaper crown, amid public backlash over allegations of phone hacking.

Seventy people, including journalists from the Sun newspaper, have so far been arrested as part of Operation Elveden. But this is the first time that Operation Elveden is known to be scrutinising Murdoch’s personal role in the practice of paying officials for information.

The audio clips of Mr Murdoch’s comments at the private meeting make up around 19 minutes.

‘Incompetent’ police

The tape reveals Mr Murdoch’s comments about “incompetent” police, his regrets over the internal News Corp investigation into the scandal, and promises to protect Sun journalists.

It shows the 82-year-old as never before: raging against the police and claiming that the inquiry into corrupt payments to public officials has been blown out of proportion.

“I mean, it’s a disgrace. Here we are, two years later, and the cops are totally incompetent,” he says.

The head of a $30bn media empire was speaking to a room full of Sun newspaper journalists, including, Channel 4 News understands, some who had been arrested over claims they had paid public officials, including police officers.

Some of those present decided to secretly record parts of the encounter.

“The idea that the cops then started coming after you, kick you out of bed, and your families, at six in the morning, is unbelievable,” he says.

“But why are the police behaving in this way? It’s the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing.”

He continues: “And now they’re arresting their own, who never even took money… They’re going to put all newspapers out of business”.

‘Saying different things’

Tom Watson MP said the tape suggested that Mr Murdoch was saying different things in private than he was in public, to the Commons select committee and the Leveson inquiry.

“What it [the tape] says is that Rupert Murdoch told parliament one thing and told his staff another. He told parliament he was fully cooperating with the police, he told his staff that it was a mistake that they were cooperating with police.”

He added: “There is a man who sat before parliament and said he had the highest integrity – that they were working their way through it and that people who hacked phones or paid police would be immediately dealt with.

“And then you hear him reassuring people that if they go to jail they might get their jobs back. I’m sure that this audio and this transcript should be in the hands of the police.”

Mr Watson has also written to senior US senators asking them to investigate the contents of the tape.