Even if it’s a conspiracy theory, News Corp. isn’t making it any easier to dismiss.
Two weeks ago, lawyers speculated the company may have violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by paying bribes to London police to get juicy stories and hack into some 4,000 phones.
Last week, activist groups raised concerns about News Corp.’s previous donations to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has campaigned to change that foreign bribery law.
Tuesday, the law firm that represented the Chamber in its campaign, Debevoise & Plimpton, confirmed it had been retained to advise News Corp.’s independent directors.
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The former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Mary Jo White, and the former Bush-era Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, who testified before Congress last month on behalf of the Chamber on a set of possible amendments to the FCPA, are on the case.
On News Corp. issues, they will report to Viet Dinh, who directed legal policy under the Bush Justice Department and now heads the management and standards committee on the News Corp. board.
While the link between News Corp. donations and the Chamber’s FCPA campaign is tenuous, the new developments prompted activist groups to go again on the offensive.
The reports linking the two “might have been described as fairly speculative before today,” said Heather Lowe, legal counsel at Global Financial Integrity. But the decision to hire Mukasey “goes a long way toward shoring up that allegation,” Lowe said.
Since 2000, News Corp.’s political action committee, News America-Fox PAC, has contributed $22,500 to Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), whose subcommittee would be marking up FCPA changes.
Judd Legum, a spokesman for the Center for American Progress, the group that made the Chamber-News Corp. connection, said: “I think it shows that News Corp. is taking potential liability under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act pretty seriously, and I think it shows the potential for prosecution in the U.S. is very real.”
In another sign of just how seriously the company is taking the potential for liability, News Corp. retained Mark Mendelsohn of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, to advise on a potential investigation, a person familiar with the matter confirmed to Main Justice.
Mendelsohn, who led the Justice Department’s stepped up enforcement of the foreign bribery law and moved to private practice last year, is in India on business and could not be reached for comment. The Wall Street Journal first reported Mendelsohn’s hiring late yesterday.
Last week the company also hired Brendan Sullivan, one of the most sought after white-collar defense lawyers in the world.