After months of waiting, a former News of the World editor 'fessed up to a doozy of a crime: he told one of his reporters to bribe a prison guard and "chuck her some more money later" if need be. Court papers dated December 13 but released publicly on Wednesday reveal that former features editor Matt Nixson ordered a reporter at the now defunct, scandal-marred tabloid to trade £750 (roughly $1,150) for a tip about a child killer back in March 2009. Based on what we know about Rupert Murdoch's woes in the United States, it could very well end with the Department of Justice slamming News Corp. with racketeering charges.
The bribery revelation itself is good and juicy. Not only does it provide further proof that News Corp. editors knowingly and somewhat openly bribed police officials, it also bolsters the case that phone hacking was both widespread and top-down at News of the World. Bloomberg's Erik Larson and Jonathan Browning describe the play-by-play:
Nixson, who was fired in July, knew the bribe was wrong because he told the reporter, Matthew Acton, to arrange the payment "very carefully," since the company had a "forensic new accountant who doesn't brook any funny business," according to the filing. … Nixson also received an e-mail from another News of the World employee about phone hacking and "blagging," or lying to get personal information for a story, and didn't "raise an objection," News Corp. said in the filing. "I'll get [REDACTED] to do his thing on [REDACTED]'s phone," the unnamed employee said in the November 2005 e-mail to Nixson.
Nixon admitted to the bribe only after News Corp. fired him for bad behavior, and Nixon sued News Corp. for wrongful termination. Now, two wrongs don't make a right, but they sure do make for a juicy story.
It's been long reported that the various stateside investigations into News Corp. are squishy -- unless rock solid proof emerges that News Corp. bribed officials, a huge no-no according to American anti-racketeering laws. It's hard to find proof more solid than a confession of doing just that. The phone hacking scandal first caught American lawmakers' attention following anonymously sourced reports that the company's tabloid reporters hacked into the phones of 9-11 victims. The allegation grabbed headlines, but it didn't really stick with investigators, since folks have had a hard time tracking down those sources and finding more evidence of widespread phone hacking on U.S. soil. However, another way into busting News Corp hinges on provisions in the both the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), an interesting piece of legislation passed in 1977 to combat corporate corruption overseas. A FCPA experted told The Daily Beast last year that "paying a police officer to get information about a pending investigation isn’t the typical FCPA prosecution" unless the bribes "are felt to have international financial implications" by the Securities Exchange Commission. While a prison guard and a police officer are not necessarily the same thing, the news that Nixson -- oh, the jokes to be made about how phone hacking is News Corp.'s Watergate -- ordered a bribe is sure to raise some eyebrows in the Justice Department.
At the very least, news of higher ups instructing reporters to bribe cops and hack phones looks bad for James Murdoch. The once-anointed son of Rupert is struggling to defend himself against accusations that he didn't know anything about widespread phone hacking at News Corp.'s tabloids. We're not sure exactly what happens next; the London Metropolitan Police's investigation is on-going. But the scandal is heating up.