Senior Scotland Yard officers are analysing an invoice originally seized from a private investigator by the Metropolitan Police in 2007. The document – which dates from the time of the discredited original phone-hacking investigation – bills News International £850 for "Scappaticci phone records".
At the time the invoice was submitted, in April 2006, a senior News of the World executive had allegedly commissioned private detectives to find Freddie Scappaticci, Britain's top agent inside the IRA who was known by the codename "Stakeknife". David Cameron's former director of communications Andy Coulson was the newspaper's editor at the time. Last week, he was convicted of conspiracy to hack mobile phones.
It is understood the explicit request to be paid for obtaining confidential phone records makes the invoice unique amongst the files held by the Metropolitan Police (Met) – and central to possible corporate charges. The request is effectively asking, in black-and-white, to be compensated for a criminal offence.
Last week, Coulson was convicted of conspiracy to hack mobile phones. Five other News of the World journalists pleaded guilty to similar offences. After an eight-month trial that made headlines around the world, former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks was acquitted of four charges.
However, the conviction of such a senior figure as Coulson has raised the possibility that News International – now rebranded News UK – could face a corporate charge, which may have serious consequences for the ability of the parent company News Corp to operate in the United States. The investigation into News UK as a "corporate suspect" caused pandemonium at the upper echelons of the Murdoch media empire when they learnt of the development two years ago.
Shortly after the company was informed it was under suspicion in May 2012, executives in the US ordered that the company dramatically scale back its co-operation with the Met. A News Corp analysis of the effects of a corporate charge, produced in New York, said the consequences could "kill the corporation, and 46,000 jobs would be in jeopardy".
Lawyers for the media giant pleaded with the Met and the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute the company, saying it would not be in the "public interest" to put thousands of jobs at risk.
Gerson Zweifach, group general counsel of News Corp, flew to London for emergency talks with the Met in 2012. According to Scotland Yard, he told police: "Crappy governance is not a crime. The US authorities' reaction would put the whole business at risk, as licences would be at risk."
I remain skeptical that corporate charges will be filed against News International/News Corporation or hopeful that even if they are, Murdoch's millions won't win the day for the evildoers, as they did in the Brooks case.
But it's becoming increasingly clear that if the Brits want to file corporate charges against Murdoch in the UK, the evidence is there to do so, and with the FBI grabbing 80,000 emails from News Corporation servers last week here in the U.S., there's a good chance the DOJ could mount a criminal case against Murdoch and News Corporation here as well.