Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Murdoch's London lawyers study new bribery law

(Reuters) - Lawyers for Rupert Murdoch's UK newspaper arm have begun an examination of its responsibilities under a new British law intended to crack down on bribery, Reuters has learned.

Two people briefed on internal matters at News Corp's News International unit said the bribery law review is being conducted by London-based Allen & Overy.
Lawyers from the firm have been acting as News International's in-house counsel since the departures of the publisher's previous staff lawyers earlier this summer during public uproar over questionable reporting practices at the company's now-shuttered News of the World.

One of the sources said that Allen & Overy's assignment would be to look at the publisher's "obligations" under a new British bribery statute which became law on July 1.
According to a description posted on the website of Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the new law is intended to provide a "modern legal framework to combat bribery in the UK and internationally."

The Foreign Office said the new law makes it illegal to offer or receive bribes and to bribe foreign officials. The law also makes it illegal for businesses to fail "to prevent bribery" by people working for them.
The second source briefed on the matter said some senior executives on News International's editorial staff had already been contacted by the lawyers about the bribery issue.
A representative for News International declined to comment.

The examination by Allen & Overy of News International's obligations under the new British bribery law follows the company's acknowledgment last week that another set of outside lawyers are conducting a broad review of reporting practices at the company's three remaining U.K. newspapers: The Sun, a daily tabloid, and two upscale papers, the Times of London and the Sunday Times.

A person briefed on this review said that the main law firm conducting the broad inquiry, Linklaters, was now being assisted by another large London firm, Olswang LLP.
New details of the reporting practices review, which has been under way since at least last month, were described by a source familiar with the review.
The source said selected editorial employees at News International titles had been advised in writing that they will be expected to discuss several issues related to reporting practices with lawyers from Olswang or Linklaters.
These issues include discussion of possible historical and recent use by News International journalists of phone hacking, the employment of private detectives, and details of dealings with police and other government employees.
The Olswang/Linklaters review will also examine the newspapers' use of cash payments, wire transfers and contributions to charity, the source said.
Two sources briefed on the inquiry said that employees who have been notified they will face interviews by Linklaters or Olswang have also been advised that they are not obliged to volunteer any information which would tend to incriminate them in illegal activity.

If a journalist facing an interview fears they have a problem, the company has offered to arrange and pay for independent lawyers to advise the journalist how to proceed.

A company representative also declined to comment on the new details of the broad reporting practices review. Last week, the company confirmed the review's existence, with a spokesperson saying it was "part of a process that started a number of weeks ago."

Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Tim Dobbyn

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