News Corp's independent directors hire top lawyers
NEW YORK (Reuters) - News Corp's independent directors have hired a top New York white-collar defense attorney and a former U.S. attorney general as Rupert Murdoch's media conglomerate seeks to contain fast-developing scandals rooted in its UK newspaper business.
Mary Jo White and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey have been brought aboard to advise independent director Viet Dinh, New York law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, where both attorneys practice, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Dinh, who is also an attorney, is supervising News Corp's management and standards committee on behalf the independent directors. The committee is cooperating with authorities investigating the scandals.
Separately, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company has hired Mark Mendelsohn, a partner in the Washington office of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, who has extensive experience with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The Journal, citing sources familiar with the matter, said Mendelsohn's mandate could not immediately be learned but noted his hiring comes amid questions over whether alleged bribes that News Corp's defunct News of the World newspaper paid to British police could constitute a violation of the act.
The Journal is owned by News Corp.
The appointments of White and Mukasey indicate that the independent directors want to ensure that any course of action for the company is designed to preserve shareholder value and the company's overall well-being, apart from any interests of executives, a partner at a large law firm told Reuters.
The partner, whose practice focuses on corporate and securities litigation, requested anonymity to speak candidly about the situation.
With the arrest of Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of News Corp's UK subsidiary News International, and the possibility of further charges or allegations against other executives, the independent directors want to make sure that the company's interests are protected, he said.
"When a company is under fire and where senior management may be implicated, independent directors want to remove even the suggestion of a conflict of interest," he said.
News Corp said on Monday it was bolstering its management and standards committee and appointing UK barrister Lord Anthony Grabiner to serve as committee chairman.
White is one of the most prominent internal investigation attorneys in the United States and is a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where she served for nine years ending in 2002.
She is chairman of Debevoise's 225-attorney litigation department. Her practice also focuses on white-collar defense and securities and corporate governance.
Mukasey was U.S. Attorney General from November 2007 to January 2009. He succeeded Alberto Gonzales, who resigned in the face of accusations by Congress that he had politicized the Attorney General's office.
Mukasey previously served as a judge in the Southern District of New York. His practice focuses on internal investigations, independent board reviews and corporate governance. He joined Debevoise in 2009.
White conducted an internal investigation of engineering giant Siemens AG in 2007 in one of the biggest corporate bribery scandals in history. UBS AG also hired White amid securities fraud allegations.
As U.S. Attorney, she brought racketeering charges against mobster John Gotti and prosecuted terrorists in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
"Mary Jo is the gold standard," said Jonathan Polkes, a securities litigation partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. White served as the acting U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York, while Polkes worked in the office in the 1990s. "She will issue a report with unquestionable integrity."
(Additional reporting by Noeleen Walder and Erin Geiger Smith; editing by Eileen Daspin, Ted Kerr and Andre Grenon)
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