News Corp may be at risk for U.S. probe over bribery

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK Mon Jul 11, 2011 5:57pm EDT

People leave the News Corporation building in New York, June 26, 2007. REUTERS/Keith Bedford

People leave the News Corporation building in New York, June 26, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Keith Bedford

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WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch's News Corp could face probes by U.S. authorities for possibly violating bribery laws, compounding the media mogul's problems after a phone-hacking scandal in Britain.

The Obama administration has significantly stepped up enforcement of anti-bribery laws in the last two years, winning big settlements from the likes of Daimler AG and BAE Systems Plc by focusing on bribes they paid to foreign officials to win lucrative contracts.

Bribes for business have represented the bulk of these anti-bribery cases brought by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. It is unclear whether U.S. authorities would use scarce resources to probe News Corp over bribes allegedly paid to British police and other officials for information that became news scoops.

Employees of Murdoch's now-shuttered News of the World tabloid have been accused of hacking into personal voicemail and paying bribes. British authorities are investigating.

Legal experts in the United States said News Corp could face scrutiny on this side of the Atlantic Ocean as U.S. officials probe whether any of the allegations, if proven true, violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

That law makes it a crime for any company with U.S. ties to bribe foreign officials to obtain or retain business.

British media outlets reported that News of the World reporters bought phone details for the royal family from a security officer. The Daily Mirror newspaper reported, citing an unidentified source, that News of the World reporters had also offered to pay a New York police officer to retrieve the private phone records of victims of the September 11 attacks.

At a minimum, the News Corp would be at risk for violating laws on accurate accounting reporting if the bribes were paid, according to legal experts. News Corp shares trade on Nasdaq and the company files its financial reports with the SEC.

"Would the Department of Justice go after them on a criminal basis? Hard to say. But the SEC definitely has a stake in this," said Alexandra Wrage, a legal expert on bribery who is the president of the firm TRACE, which helps companies comply with anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws.

One source familiar with the matter said News Corp had not received any query from U.S. authorities.

SEC LIKELY TO LEAD ANY PROBE

"How did they account for these payments? If you falsify, misrepresent on your books what this money was spent on, straight out of the box you have a FCPA violation," Wrage said.

The Justice Department, the SEC and News Corp all declined to comment.

The United States has been pushing other countries to step up their enforcement of anti-bribery laws and a stiff new law in that vein took effect July 1 in Britain. However, it would not apply to the News of the World case because the alleged activity took place before the measure came into force.

One lawyer said U.S. prosecutors would likely defer to their British counterparts and raised questions of whether a criminal case here could be made since prosecutors would have to show bribes were paid to obtain or retain business.

"It's a million-to-one shot," said the attorney, who declined to be identified because he did not want to jeopardize any business with News Corp.

Ed Rubinoff, a Washington-based attorney with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld, said any investigation would likely be led by the SEC and focus on how the company reported and accounted for any alleged bribes it paid as well as what controls it had for such payments.

If a probe is initiated, that could signal a broadening of the U.S. government's interpretation of the law, Rubinoff said. However, the difficulty could be in proving that any bribes gave News Corp a business advantage, Rubinoff said.

"This would be pushing the boundary a good bit more," he said, adding that "you don't have to prove all those elements for a record-keeping violation."

Another possible headache for Murdoch's empire is that a bribery inquiry that started in one country could go global and such investigations can drag on for years and cost tens of millions of dollars.

"Another potential issue here that should be of concern to the company is it is very common for FCPA inquiries to focus on a discrete set of facts, but then for a company to do a world-wide internal review," said Michael Koehler, a professor of business law at Butler University.

"It's very common for enforcement agencies to ask the 'where else?' questions," he said.

(Editing by Christopher Wilson)

(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa in Washington and Yinka Adegoke in New York.)

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Comments (6)
CITADEL4U wrote:
Rupert Murdock should go to jail!

He is the biggest criminal operating in the world.

He uses his newspapers to buy influence in governments, and bribes his way into our political decision making.

The only way to stop this is for Murdock to get a giant sentence to prison. I hope he stays locked up forever!

Jul 11, 2011 6:35pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Oh my dear Lord in heaven…let’s just let the world order begin! It seems this administration’s focus on every thing EXCEPT making this country strong again is embarrassed by the countries we once protected…bow to those that know better than you!!!

LET NO VOICE THAT CONFLICTS WITH YOUR WAY OF THINKING SPEAK!!! YOU ARE ALWAYS RIGHT!!! NEVER CHALLENGE THINGS THAT ARE SPOKEN FROM YOUR MASTERS EVEN IF YOU THINK THEY MIGHT BE WRONG!! KEEP IN STEP AND BE ACCEPTED, BECAUSE THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO WILL ACCEPT YOU FOR YOUR VOTE…ER, SORRY…FOR WHO YOU ARE! KEEP MOVING FORWARD SOLDIER…EVEN THOUGH YOU WEAR NO UNIFORM…YOU WILL CONQUER THE WORLD…KEEP UP THE CHANT…DO NOT MIND THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN…HE ONLY WANTS WHAT’S BEST FOR YOU!!! REMEMBER THAT ANYONE THAT DOESN’T AGREE WITH YOUR MASTER IS A MEAN EVIL KITTEN KILLING SO-AND-SO…DON’T LET THEM FOOL YOU!!! MARCH SOLDIER, MARCH!!

Jul 11, 2011 6:56pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
touran-dokht wrote:
obummer the shady impostor w/ no past history and no REAL BC should go to jail for pulling off the biggest criminal heist in the history of the world on the American people. One day it’ll all come out what this con artist has pulled off on this country — I mean how are historians going to write their history books about the “first half black president” of the United States without digging into the past that he wants to keep hidden! Ha, the poor miserable charlatan’s days will come, sooner or later.

Jul 11, 2011 8:19pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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