James Murdoch pleads innocence ahead of UK report
LONDON (Reuters) - James Murdoch made a last ditch appeal to a parliamentary committee investigating phone-hacking at his company, ahead of a report expected from the committee in coming weeks that could determine whether he has a future in Britain.
The committee, which hauled James and his father Rupert before it for a three-hour grilling in July, is expected to criticize the younger Murdoch for failing to uncover the scale of the problem, threatening his role as chairman of pay-TV group BSkyB.
In a seven-page letter, the 39-year-old apologized to those affected but said he had been let down by senior staff on whom he had relied, allowing a scandal to escalate which damaged not only the reputation of the News Corp media empire but also British politicians and police.
At stake is his role as chairman of BSkyB and potentially his future at News Corp, where he had for years been marked out as heir apparent to his father as chief executive and is currently deputy chief operating officer.
The Murdoch letter was published on Wednesday as Scotland Yard announced the re-arrest of another key figure in the scandal, this time on suspicion of intimidating a witness.
That in turn followed the arrests of six people at dawn on Tuesday, including Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the now-defunct News of the World tabloid at the heart of the scandal and close confidante of Rupert Murdoch.
"I did not know about, nor did I try to hide, wrongdoing," Murdoch said in the letter published by the committee. "Whilst I accept my share of responsibility for not uncovering wrongdoing sooner, I did not mislead parliament and the evidence does not support any other conclusion."
The hacking scandal exploded last July as a stream of revelations over the hacking of crime victims and Britain's war dead sparked a wave of public revulsion which forced the closure of the mass-selling 168-year-old News of the World.
Murdoch, who became chief executive of News Corp's British newspaper arm only after the hacking had ended, has since stepped down from any newspaper role to focus on his pay-TV duties, which include the chairmanship of BSkyB.
Analysts and some shareholders believe he would struggle to remain at BSkyB if he is singled out for criticism in the parliamentary report, as it could impact his ability to negotiate with the government and regulators on behalf of one of Britain's most powerful media firms.
Murdoch acknowledged he was at fault for not having asked more questions of his staff and scrutinized documents more closely, but said he had trusted those around him.
Two key figures on whom he said he had relied have publicly contradicted the evidence Murdoch gave to the committee in July, resulting in his recall to answer more questions four months later.
News Corp's British newspaper arm News International had long argued that the hacking of voicemails to generate stories was the work of a single rogue reporter and a private investigator who had already gone to jail for the crime.
But as more people came forward to accuse the company of hacking their phones, that defense crumbled and attention turned to those at the top of the company and why they had not pushed further to discover the truth.
"Clearly, with the benefit of hindsight, I acknowledge that wrongdoing should have been uncovered earlier," Murdoch said. "I reiterate my personal apology to those who had their privacy invaded."
The parliamentary committee had originally planned to publish its report before Christmas but due to the sensitivity of the material it is having to write the document by committee and is now aiming for the Easter holiday in April.
On top of the parliamentary investigation, Britain's broadcasting regulator Ofcom revealed last week that it had set up a dedicated team known as "Project Apple" to investigate whether BSkyB was a "fit and proper" holder of a broadcast license.
The investigation is considering the status of both James Murdoch as chairman of the satellite broadcaster, and of News Corp, which is a 39 percent owner and was forced to drop a full takeover bid last year because of the phone-hacking scandal.
(Editing by David Holmes)
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