LONDON - The officer leading a police investigation into Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers said yesterday that reporters and editors at The Sun tabloid had over the years paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for information not only to police but to a “network of corrupted officials’’ in the military and government.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers said e-mails obtained by police show there was a “culture at The Sun of illegal payments’’ authorized “at a very senior level within the newspaper’’ and involved “frequent and sometimes significant sums of money’’ paid to officials in the Health Ministry and prison service, among other agencies.
The testimony was a sharp new turn in a monthslong investigation of Murdoch-owned and other newspapers known as the Leveson inquiry. It detailed financial transactions that showed the scale and scope of reported bribes, the covert nature of their payment, and the seniority of newspaper executives accused of involvement.
The testimony may prove damaging to News Corp., the US-based parent of Murdoch’s media empire, if it gives ammunition to the FBI and other agencies that are investigating the company for possible prosecution under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Until now, the Leveson inquiry delved primarily into questions of unlawful accessing of private voicemails and e-mails by tabloid journalists. That scandal that forced the company to shut down The News of the World, Murdoch’s flagship Sunday tabloid, in July. It was replaced last weekend by a new Sunday version of The Sun.
Murdoch did not specifically deny the allegations made by Akers but focused on the company’s response: “As I’ve made very clear, we have vowed to do everything we can to get to the bottom of prior wrongdoings in order to set us on the right path for the future. . . . The practices Sue Akers described at the Leveson inquiry are ones of the past, and no longer exist at The Sun.’’
A number of senior journalists from The Sun have been arrested on suspicion of making illegal payments; Akers said the activities she described were carried out by “the arrested journalists.’’ Akers said one official got more than $125,000 and a single journalist was allocated more than $238,000 to pay sources.