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Ex-Murdoch aides face bribe charges

  • Article by: ALAN COWELL
  • a nd JOHN F. BURNS New York Times
  • November 20, 2012 - 8:16 PM

LONDON - In a dramatic new turn in the scandals swirling around Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper outpost, prosecutors said on Tuesday that two former top executives will be charged with paying bribes of up to $160,000 to public officials in addition to several earlier charges against them.

The Crown Prosecution Service identified the onetime aides as Rebekah Brooks, 44, and Andy Coulson, 44, both of whom have had close personal or professional ties to Prime Minister David Cameron. The British leader hired Coulson as his director of communications while in opposition and kept him on after coming to power in the 2010 elections.

On Tuesday, Coulson, a former editor of the News of the World tabloid, denied two counts relating to periods before he joined Cameron's staff in 2007, and said he would fight them in court.

Brooks, who faced a single charge of conspiring with another journalist to pay $160,000 over seven years to a defense ministry official, was a neighbor and personal friend of Cameron.

The charge of bribing a defense ministry official is potentially the most serious of all those drawn up by prosecutors in the scandal that has enveloped the Murdoch empire in Britain.

Under a new bribery act passed by the British parliament in 2010, described by British legal experts as one of the toughest statutes of its kind anywhere, the maximum penalty for bribing a public official is 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine, but the statute also provides for much lesser penalties.

The accusations seem certain to precipitate a new debate about the practice known in Britain as "checkbook journalism," common for many years, under which editors, reporters and investigators have paid sources clandestinely for information, or provided them with other benefits.

The Crown Prosecution Service said Tuesday that Coulson and Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, the British newspaper subsidiary of Murdoch's News Corp., were among five people to be charged as part of a police inquiry called Operation Elveden. The investigation ran in parallel with other investigations tied to a phone-hacking scandal that led to the closing of News of the World.

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