U.S. drops probe of Fox, News Corp: No charges filed in hacking scandal

U.S. investigators' three-year probe of News Corp. in British phone hacking scandal ends with no charges

Federal investigators have ended their three-year investigation into whether Rupert Murdoch's media company violated U.S. laws during the British tabloid phone hacking and bribery scandal.

The U.S. Department of Justice said Monday that it had closed its lengthy investigation into the matter without bringing charges.

Murdoch's 21st Century Fox separately acknowledged the move in a regulatory filing, saying federal investigators told executives late last week that the government had ended the probe.

"21st Century Fox and News Corp. have been notified by the United States Department of Justice that it has completed its investigation of voicemail interception and payments to public officials in London, and is declining to prosecute either company," Gerson Zweifach, Group General Counsel of 21st Century Fox, said Monday in a statement.

The move brings a tawdry chapter in News Corp.'s history to a close.

The phone hacking scandal exploded into front-page headlines around the world in 2011, damaging the reputations of Murdoch, his son James Murdoch, who managed the company's British operations at the time, and dozens of British journalists who worked at the company.

Although the crimes were committed in Britain, U.S. investigators began looking into the episode after News Corp. acknowledged there had been wrongdoing. Bribes allegedly were paid to police officers and other government officials in exchange for story tips for reporters.

The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, adopted in 1977, makes it a crime for companies based in the U.S. to bribe foreign officials in an effort to improve their business prospects.

"Based upon the information known to the Justice Department at this time, it has closed its investigation into News Corp. regarding possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act concerning bribes allegedly paid for news leads," a U.S. Justice Department spokesperson said Monday.

"If additional information or evidence should be made available in the future, the Department reserves the right to reopen the inquiry," the spokesperson said.

News Corp. reporters, primarily at the now defunct News of the World, eavesdropped on voicemails left on cellphones of British celebrities, sports figures, members of the royal family and even crime victims to glean information for salacious stories.

The scandal was costly. News Corp. has acknowledged spending $454 million on legal costs related to the phone hacking scandal and investigations over the last three years.

News Corp. in 2011 shut down its lucrative News of the World tabloid, and abandoned its attempt to control 100% of the powerful satellite TV service British Sky Broadcasting.

Dozens of former News Corp. employees in London were charged with crimes.

"We are grateful that this matter has been concluded and acknowledge the fairness and professionalism of the Department of Justice throughout this investigation," Zweifach said in the statement.

News Corp. and 21st Century Fox split into two separate companies in 2013. Fox assumed responsibility for potential liability that might arise from the government investigation of the phone hacking scandal.

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times