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New hacking allegations engulf Murdoch papers

Rivals report intrusions on palace, ex-PM

POTENTIAL EFFECT IN UNITED STATES Analysts said it is possible Rupert Murdoch’s US firms might face legal action because of improprieties in Britain. POTENTIAL EFFECT IN UNITED STATES
Analysts said it is possible Rupert Murdoch’s US firms might face legal action because of improprieties in Britain.
By Cassandra Vinograd
Associated Press / July 12, 2011

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LONDON - Rupert Murdoch’s media empire was besieged yesterday by accusations that two more of his British newspapers engaged in hacking, deception, and privacy violations that included accessing former prime minister Gordon Brown’s bank account information and stealing the medical records of his seriously ill baby son.

Murdoch’s reporters were also accused of paying Queen Elizabeth II’s bodyguards for secret information about the monarch, potentially jeopardizing her safety.

If proved, the charges by rival newspapers would dramatically increase the pressure on top Murdoch executives so far largely insulated from the scandal.

The public outrage began a week ago over wrongdoing at the Murdoch-owned best-selling tabloid News of the World. It has since disrupted the media titan’s plans to take over highly profitable satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting and slashed billions off the value of his global conglomerate News Corp.

Members of a parliamentary committee are expected to hold a hearing today to try to determine whether senior officials of the Metropolitan Police limited the scope of the initial phone-hacking investigation in 2006 because their own phones had been hacked and they feared disclosure of damaging information about their personal lives.

News organizations outside News Corp. have reported that one of the senior officers allegedly padded his expense reports and was involved in extramarital affairs, and another used official frequent-flier miles for personal vacations.

The scandal has cast a harsh light on the unparalleled political influence of Murdoch’s collection of newspapers in Britain and it is taking an increasing toll on Prime Minister David Cameron. The conservative leader’s former communications chief, Andy Coulson, was arrested last week in connection with alleged payoffs to police when he was editor of News of the World.

With political pressure rising, a final decision on the $12 billion BSkyB takeover was delayed after Murdoch withdrew a promise to spin off news channel Sky News. It was seen as a tactical move that forced the British government to refer the bid to authorities charged with enforcing antimonopoly laws, delaying any decision for months.

Analysts said Murdoch’s move amounts to a favor for Cameron, sparing the prime minister the possibility of an embarrassing defeat in the House of Commons.

The takeover will be spared scrutiny during a period of once-unimaginable public criticism of Murdoch’s British operation, News International, fueled by a relentless stream of new allegations of wrongdoing at its properties.

London’s Evening Standard newspaper reported that corrupt royal protection officers sold personal details about Queen Elizabeth II - including phone numbers and tips about her movements and staff - to journalists working for the News of the World, raising questions over a breach in national security.

The scandal spread beyond the now-defunct tabloid, with British media reporting yesterday that Brown was one of thousands whose privacy was breached by News International papers, saying that his personal details - including his bank account and his son’s medical records - had been stolen by people working for the Sun and the Sunday Times. None of the media cited sources.

The Guardian, which set off the scandal last week with a report that the News of the World had hacked the phone of a missing 13-year-old girl who was later found murdered, said on its website that the Sun had illegally obtained details from the medical records of Brown’s 4-year-old son Fraser, who has cystic fibrosis.

The Sun broke the story of Fraser’s illness soon after he was born in 2006. The Guardian reported that News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, then editor of the Sun, contacted the Browns before publication.

The Guardian said Brown was targeted over a period of more than 10 years while he served as chancellor of the exchequer and prime minister, and that some of his financial information was obtained by hacking into his accountant’s computers.

A spokeswoman for Brown said yesterday that the former prime minister was shocked by the alleged “criminality and the unethical means by which personal details have been obtained’’ about his family.

Legal analysts said yesterday it is possible Murdoch’s US companies might face legal actions because of the shady practices at the News of the World. In the United States, Murdoch owns Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post, among other holdings.

They said Murdoch’s News Corp. might be liable to criminal prosecution under the 1977 Corrupt Foreign Practices Act, a broad act designed to prosecute executives who bribe foreign officials in exchange for large contracts.

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