The UK branch of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is being investigated as a "corporate suspect" by police, with senior sources fearing it could endanger the company's future in the US.
Police initially focused their investigations on individuals at News International, recently renamed News UK, after some journalists were found to have illegally tapped voicemail messages for exclusives and bribed police for information.
According to the Independent, a lawyer representing News Corp was recently interviewed under caution by police over corporate offences, and two senior members of staff have been cautioned for corporate offences.
If the company as an entity is charged, one News Corp report report states that the move could "kill the corporation and 46,000 jobs would be in jeopardy."
According to the Independent, Gerson Zweifach, the group general counsel of News Corp, flew in to London for emergency talks with the Met last year and told police: "Crappy governance is not a crime. The downstream effects of a prosecution would be apocalyptic. The US authorities' reaction would put the whole business at risk, as licences would be at risk."
The company was placed under formal investigation last year, with lawyers only becoming aware of this when documents including minutes from board meetings were requested by police.
A special committee, the Management and Standards Committee, was set up to assist police with their inquiries. But the chair, barrister Lord Grabiner, suspended the policy of co-operation on learning of the turn the investigation had taken.
In his previously unpublished statement to Leveson, Grabiner said: "A suspect which is being asked to provide material for use in the investigation into its own liability is entitled to be advised that it is under suspicion in order that it can be advised of its rights and make informed decisions."
Therefore, following the police disclosure of its interest in pursuing a possible corporate charge, the MSC felt "obliged to proceed with some care" in its relationship with investigating officers.
Soon after, executives split the firm's newspaper and film and television wings, with observers believing they were trying to minimise potential fallout from the scandal, which might have hit highly profitable wings of the company such as Twentieth Century Fox and Fox News.
"The relationship has always been a challenging one and since May of this year voluntary cooperation has been significantly reduced and all requests for new material are now supervised by the courts," London Police Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick told lawmakers shortly afterwards.
Earlier this year Murdoch was secretly recorded at a meeting with staff at The Sun ridiculing the police investigation and saying the company had been wrong to co-operate.
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