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Success shines on new Sun - then Leveson inquiry casts a dark corruption cloud

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By Noel Young, Correspondent

February 27, 2012 | 6 min read

Rupert Murdoch is accustomed to winning but if he thought the success of his new Sunday edition of the the Sun would bury bad tidings from the resumed Leveson inquiry yesterday , he was out of luck .

Success for the new Sunday

The New York Times , in the home city of his international business , News Corp , acknowledged the new Sun, but made more of the revelations by Sue Akers of the Yard to the Leveson inquiry about her ongoing investigation into his British papers and the "culture of corruption" she found there.

Akers , the Yard's Deputy Assistant Commissioner, told the inquiry that reporters and editors at The Sun tabloid had over the years paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for information not only to police officers but also to a “network of corrupted officials” in the military and the government.

In Britain the Telegraph also majored on who knew what and when about the phone hacking scandal, as did the Guardian. How high did it go?

The Independent commented that Akers's terminology, "with all its connotations of an organised corporate policy, could hardly have been more damaging for the publishers, News Corporation, which is terrified of the effects of potential legal action in the United States. "

The Guardian put it bluntly, "Akers's reference to the systematic nature of alleged corruption, and its endorsement by senior executives, will be a clear signal to the US department of justice that her allegations, if proved, fall squarely within the ambit of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

"Rupert Murdoch's US parent company, News Corporation, could face fines of hundreds of millions of dollars unless it can show it has co-operated vigorously with the authorities in rooting out malpractice."

In a statement quoted by the NYT , Rupert Murdoch might just have had that in mind. He said : “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.

"That process is well under way. The practices Sue Akers described at the Leveson Inquiry are ones of the past, and no longer exist at The Sun. We have already emerged a stronger company.”

Akers said e-mail records obtained by the police showed that there was a “culture at The Sun of illegal payments” that were authorized “at a very senior level within the newspaper” .

These involved “frequent and sometimes significant sums of money” paid to public officials in the Health Ministry and the prison service, among other places.

Akers told the inquiry that payments from The Sun went far beyond the occasional lunch or dinner, with one public official receiving more than £80,000 over several years, and a single journalist being allocated more than £150,000 in cash to pay sources, including government officials.

The NYT reported that It was clear from references in the e-mails — to staff members’ “risking losing their pension or job” and to the need for “tradecraft” like keeping the payments secret or making payments to friends or relatives of the officials — that the journalists in question knew that the payments were illegal, Akers said.

“Systems have been created to facilitate such payments whilst hiding the identity of the officials receiving the money,” she said.

“The e-mails indicate that payments to ‘sources’ were openly referred to within The Sun, with the category of public official being identified, rather than the individual’s identity.”

She added: “Some of the initial e-mails reveal, upon further detailed investigation, multiple payments to individuals of thousands of pounds. There is also mention in some e-mails of public officials being placed on ‘retainers,’ and this is a line of inquiry currently being investigated.”

Speaking of the continuing police investigations, Akers said: “We are nearer the start than the finish on this inquiry and there remain a number of persons of interest. These include journalists and public officials.”

The damaging revelations today were not limited to The Sun, said the NYT. but extended to The News of the World phone hacking scandal .

According to a lawyer for the Leveson Inquiry, Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive was told explicitly by the police in 2006 that at least 100 people, including politicians and sports stars, had had their phones hacked by a private investigator working for The News of the World.

Details of Brooks’s conversation with the police were revealed in an e-mail sent on Sept. 11, 2006, from News International lawyer Tom Crone to the editor of The News of the World, Andy Coulson, the inquiry was told.

According to the e-mail, Brooks was informed that police had evidence that the investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, appeared to have been paid more than £1 million by News International for his hacking work over a period of years.

"The revelation is hugely significant," said the New York Times report," because it speaks to one of the crucial questions in the hacking inquiry . . .who knew what, and when.

"Until 2010, Ms. Brooks, Mr. Coulson, Mr. Crone and a bevy of other News International officials repeatedly declared that phone hacking at The News of the World was limited to a single “rogue reporter” — the royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, who was jailed along with Mr. Mulcaire in 2007.

"According to the e-mail, though, Ms. Brooks was told that the list of victims of Mr. Mulcaire’s hacking work included politicians, sports stars and celebrities — people Mr. Goodman would have had no reason to write about."

The New York Times went on to say that the new paper, The Sun , published its first edition this past Sunday. "Mr. Murdoch declared in a message on Twitter that it had sold about 3 million copies." In fact the figure is now known to be even higher; at around 3.26 million

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