The calls to investigate allegations that News of the World reporters bribed U.K. police officers for information amplified Monday as a member of parliament called on one of the country’s fraud enforcement agencies to open a probe into the U.K. subsidiaries of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Labour Party MP Tom Watson sent a letter to the Serious Fraud Office Monday asking the office “to investigate certain allegations relating to News Corp subsidiaries,” according to an SFO spokeswoman.
“SFO Director Richard Alderman will give full consideration to Mr Watson’s letter,” the spokeswoman said in an email.
Watson’s letter echoes calls made on the other side of the Atlantic.
The BBC reported Monday that the Justice Department had informally contacted the SFO about opening an investigation in the U.S. into the alleged bribes.
Last week three U.S. Senators, Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), sent letters to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Schapiro calling for an investigation into whether Murdoch’s media conglomerate violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Meanwhile, House Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and others sent a letter to Holder asking for an investigation into into whether News Corp. employees hacked or attempted to hack into the calls and phone records of Sept. 11 victims and their families.
Holder confirmed Friday that the Justice Department had opened an investigation into scandal-ridden News Corp. but did not make it clear whether the department was investigating the phone hacking or potential violations of the FCPA, which prohibits bribes to foreign officials, or both. It was widely reported last week that the FBI has opened an investigation into the phone hacking.
DOJ spokeswoman Laura Sweeney previously confirmed to Main Justice that the department was reviewing the letters it had received.
“The department does not comment specifically on investigations, though anytime we see evidence of wrongdoing, we take appropriate action,” Sweeney said. “The department has received letters from several Members of Congress regarding allegations related to News Corp. and we’re reviewing those.”
The BBC reported that the DOJ contacted the SFO instead of the London Metropolitan Police Service, which is conducting its own investigation. The SFO and DOJ routinely share information and have worked together on a number of corruption investigations.
The SFO spokeswoman could not confirm any contact between the two agencies.
“The SFO is routinely in contact with the U.S. authorities and will provide assistance as required,” she said.
Sweeney said that the Justice Department could also not confirm any informal inquiries.
News Corp. has been shaken to its core over the past two weeks. The phone-hacking scandal that has rocked the Murdoch empire, shuttered a Murdoch-owned tabloid and caused trembling at 10 Downing Street could now lead to an investigation under the FCPA and British anti-bribery laws.
The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by News. Corp, came out swinging Monday. In a scathing editorial, the paper asserted that Holder had ignored the First Amendment by opening an FCPA investigation into News Corp. and the Justice Department had stretched the jurisdiction of the law to include “payments that have nothing to do with foreign government procurement.”
“Applying this standard to British tabloids could turn payments made as part of traditional news-gathering into criminal acts,” the paper wrote. “The Wall Street Journal doesn’t pay sources for information, but the practice is common elsewhere in the press, including in the U.S.”
The Journal also warned its “media brethren” against inviting Congress and prosecutors “to regulate how journalists gather the news.”