Sometimes the conspiracy theories turn out to be true. Sometimes, the worst-case, most-paranoid scenarios turn out to be accurate.

News International wasn’t just a rogue corporation, systemically engaged in corrupt and criminal activities, politically connected at the highest levels: it had co-opted an entire police force, an arm of the state, to protect it. That’s the clear outcome of the first day of the resumed hearings of the Leveson inquiry in Britain, which has switched its attention from phone hacking to illegal payments to police.

Sue Akers, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, gave remarkable evidence yesterday from the investigation of what she called the Sun’s “culture of illegal payments” to police and other public officials.

The Sun has been maintaining the investigation is an assault on free speech and investigative journalism, but Akers demolished that with revelations some public officials had been placed on retainer, one had been paid £80,000 and a “network of corrupt officials” existed to provide The Sun primarily with “salacious gossip”. This wasn’t journalists buying the local copper a beer or lunch.

This is the outlet Rupert Murdoch claims is one of the world’s finest newspapers and one of his proudest achievements

But the most explosive revelation related to the intersection of this corruption and phone hacking. The inquiry was read a confidential email from then News International’s legal manager, Tom Crone, to Andy Coulson, then editor of the News of the World, in 2006, explaining what Rebekah Brooks (Wade), then editor of The Sun, had relayed to him about what the police had told her about their case against Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire for phone hacking members of the royal family:

  • The police knew there had been 100-110 “victims” at least and not just members of the royal household;
  • The News of the World had paid over £1 million for the phone hacks
  • The police were only contacting the “bigger victims”
  • NotW journalists had accessed phone messages themselves, Mulcaire’s phone records, and
  • “they are going to contact RW [Rebekah Wade] today to see if she wishes to take it further.”

The email only incidentally reveals that the police and senior News International executives knew that phone hacking had gone on at an industrial scale at NotW, thereby showing that the “rogue reporter” defence (maintained until 2010) was always a willful lie. And even the normally remarkable fact that Brooks had been fully briefed on the details of the police investigation of the another section of her company pales before the fact that the police actually left it up to her to determine how far they should go in investigating and prosecuting other offences.

It now makes sense as to why the police found a way to never undertake further investigations of phone hacking until forced to do so by The Guardian’s coverage, despite being aware of another fact that came to light overnight, that Mulcaire had obtained details of people’s new identities in witness protection programs from police.

The revelations suggest a prosecution of News Corporation under the United States’ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is almost assured now.

The creature being slowly revealed to the world, incriminating email by incriminating email, is a monstrous hybrid, part corporation, part government, all corrupt: a company intertwined in the operations of the state at the highest levels, created by prime ministerial friendships, provision of advisers, threats and rewards, with the police acting virtually as the company’s private security firm, taking their orders from politically connected executives.

The revelations would place further pressure on Visa and Mastercard to stop payment services to News International following its WikiLeaks blockade. Indeed, Visa Europe told Crikey last week

“When a merchant wants to accept Visa payments, it must abide by our operating regulations and also the applicable laws in the country or countries where the card holder and merchant are based.  When concerns are raised that this may not be the case, Visa Europe can take action to investigate and if appropriate suspend payments. Visa Europe’s suspension of Visa payments to WikiLeaks’ website remains in place.”

On that basis, News International must clearly be a potential target for investigation and suspension of payments. Crikey asked Visa Europe if it would be doing so, or whether it ruled out such a response; the company declined to add further to its statement, leaving the door open to actions against News International.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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