LONDON - British authorities arrested eight people yesterday, including five employees of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid The Sun, as part of an investigation into bribery of public officials by journalists, according to Scotland Yard and the newspaper’s parent company.
The arrests were made on the suspicion of corruption in conjunction with a search at the homes of those arrested and at the newspaper’s office complex, detectives said in a statement.
The five Sun employees were not identified by the police, but the newspaper’s staff was told that they were a deputy editor, Geoff Webster; the chief reporter, John Kay; the chief foreign correspondent, Nick Parker; a picture editor, John Edwards; and a reporter, John Sturgis, according to an internal message.
The Sun is Murdoch’s British flagship and the best-selling daily newspaper here, with a circulation of just over 2.7 million copies daily, according to figures from late last year. It had previously been on the fringes of a scandal that led to the closing of its sister tabloid, News of the World, last summer over accusations of illegal news-gathering techniques like intercepting voice mail messages, hacking computers, and bribing public officials.
Murdoch’s company, News Corp., had sought to shield The Sun, seen by many industry analysts as his crown jewel and cash cow here, from the scandal. In the face of occasional mentions in lawsuits last year, the company fiercely disputed any suggestion that the newspaper was embroiled in widespread illegality.
A former official with News International, the British newspaper arm of News Corp., who has knowledge of the investigation, said that given the overwhelming quantity of evidence, the police have relied heavily on guidance from News Corp.
Now, as part of an effort to draw a line under the scandal that has included the settlement of dozens of lawsuits, and under the guidance of a team put in place by the company to investigate wrongdoing, the Management and Standards Committee, the newspaper has been firmly implicated.
The arrests yesterday bring to nine the number of current and former Sun employees arrested in the case.
Late last month, four other current and former employees of The Sun, as well as a police officer, were arrested on suspicion of corruption. They were the paper’s crime editor and the head of news, as well as a former managing editor and a former deputy editor.
Both sets of arrests were based on information provided to the police by the Management and Standards Committee.
The Sun’s editor, Dominic Mohan, said that he was “as shocked as anyone by today’s arrests,’’ but that the paper would come out as usual tomorrow. There were reports that Murdoch would fly to London, as he did when News of the World was closed.
A spokeswoman declined to comment on his plans, but Tom Mockridge, the chief executive officer of the company’s British newspaper arm, News International, told the newspaper’s staff that he had “had a personal assurance today from Rupert Murdoch about his total commitment to continue to own and publish The Sun newspaper,’’ according to the internal message.