FBI Begins Investigation Of News Corp

As the News Corp scandal roils the political world in Britain, questions are raised in the U.S. about cell phone hacking and other misbehavior on this side of the Atlantic. Elements of News Corp's power structure in America have been lawyering up at a high level.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

An investigation of News Corp is gearing up on this side of the Atlantic. This week, FBI agents started interviewing people about the company's business practices. As NPR's Carrie Johnson reports, they're looking for evidence of phone hacking or bribery.

CARRIE JOHNSON: Federal agents in the U.S. say they're working with counterparts at Scotland Yard, where authorities have been investigating News Corp a lot longer. Prosecutors here say they feel duty bound to sift through allegations - still unsubstantiated - that questionable business dealings in Great Britain might have happened in the U.S. as well.

John Coffee teaches law at Columbia University. He's been following Rupert Murdoch and his company for years.

Professor JOHN COFFEE (Columbia University): Essentially, Mr. Murdoch is facing a two-front war. While he is being investigated for phone hacking and illegal payments in Great Britain, he has equivalent, maybe greater, legal exposure in the United States.

JOHNSON: That exposure comes in the form of a Watergate-era law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Congress passed the law after finding out that major American companies were paying bribes to win business overseas.

Sol Wisenberg is a Washington lawyer who works on those cases.

Mr. SOL WISENBERG (Lawyer): Well, the classic FCPA case is when you pay a foreign official in order to obtain or retain foreign business.

JOHNSON: But at News Corp, the allegations are a bit different. Reporters and editors in the U.K. are said to have paid police to get hot tips about celebrities and people in the news, not to win a lucrative oil or utilities contract from a foreign government. So experts say applying the foreign bribery law might be a stretch.

There's another complication: The statute of limitations may have already run out on phone hacking and bribery offenses. Meanwhile, Coffee says, the media giant isn't taking any chances.

Prof. COFFEE News Corp has really lawyered up on this specific issue, hiring kind of the dream team of American lawyers who are experts in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

JOHNSON: That team includes former New York U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Mark Mendelsohn, who made his name collecting billion dollar settlements in foreign bribery cases at the Justice Department. Legal experts say that signals News Corp knows it could be in for a long investigation and that it's determined to come out ahead.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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