Today in the High Court, News Group Newpapers, the News Corp subsidiary responsible for the defunct News of the World and The Sun, is settling dozens of hacking and surveillance claimsin an attempt to avoid a high court case on Feb 13th which could result in punitive damages.
There are over 60 hacking victims with ongoing cases, and at least another 800 confirmed and subject to litigation. Financially, this could be very costly for News International. But in terms of the hacking saga, it could be devastating for the Murdochs
Two Smoking Guns
1. In terms of the legal statements now being made in court, perhaps the most important is the admission of corporate cover-up. David Leigh at the stellar Guardian has the most incisive analysis
The most significant new element of Thursday's hacking settlement announcements is the accusation by the hacking victims' lawyers that Murdoch company directors tried to destroy evidence.
Although the lawyers' statement does not name names, it specifically accuses directors of News Group Newspapers Ltd, the Murdoch subsidiary which controlled the News of the World, of seeking to conceal the wrongdoing by "deliberately deceiving investigators and destroying evidence".
The directors of NGN were headed, from April 2008, by James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch's son. James has already been at the centre of public allegations that he first authorised a cover-up in June 2008, by agreeing to buy the silence of Gordon Taylor, one of the hacking victims, with a lavish £700,000 secret pay-off.
The following year, former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks joined the NGN board. This was on 23 July 2009, a few days after the Guardian revealed the existence of the cover-up at the News of the World. Brooks, who by now had been promoted by Rupert Murdoch to head his entire UK newspaper operation, responded by claiming: "The Guardian coverage, we believe, has substantially and likely deliberately misled the British public."
This takes the whole phone hacking scandal right to the top of the tree. Who knows what will unfold, but I wouldn't be surprised to see more resignations.
2. But for US readers - and for News Corp which is incorporated in the US - perhaps the most significant revelation in the welter of admissions today is with the Jude Law Case, where NGN's lawyers have admitted that - in line with news reports months ago - they hacked his phone while he was on US soil at JFK. From the Telegraph in June
The News of the World allegedly hacked into the mobile phones of Jude Law and his personal assistant while they were in New York, opening the way for News International to be prosecuted in the United States.
In the first specific example of a case of hacking on US soil, it has emerged that the actor and his assistant, Ben Jackson, were allegedly targeted shortly after arriving at New York's JFK airport.
Their mobile telephones were operating on American networks, meaning that regardless of where the alleged hacker was based, American law would apply.
It would leave News International open to claims that it broke US federal laws and also pave the way for costly lawsuits.
The allegation comes after it was announced that the FBI has opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that Rupert Murdoch's company tried to hack into the phones of victims of the September 11 attacks.
So where does this leave the FBI investigation? The DOJ is still looking at violations Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and potential RICO violations. But this is a clear cut admission of intercepting wireless telephony on US soil.
I'm looking to fellow Kossacks for legal clarification on this and - if possible - to push the DOJ into action.
UPDATE: looks like this is getting some traction stateside. From Vanity Fair contributor and Murdoch Biographer, Michael Wolff:
Be part of the FOTHOM book: Bad Press: Fall of the House of Murdoch