Rupert Murdoch could end up taking the “nuclear option” by getting rid of his UK newspaper business, if charges were brought against the company over complicity in alleged phone hacking and bribery of public officials, it has been claimed.
The media chief is known to be deeply attached to his British titles, which include The Times , The Sunday Times and The Sun . However, lawyers claim he could end up shutting down the entire British newspaper operation to help preserve the rest of his empire, in the event that the police press charges against the company.
The Telegraph revealed last week that the Metropolitan Police is now treating News UK, the newspaper corporation, as a corporate suspect in its investigations of alleged hacking and bribery at the News of the World .
The probe raises the possibility that corporate charges could be lodged against News UK, which could criminalise the News UK board and have severe knock-on effects on the rest of Mr Murdoch’s business interests, especially in the US.
However, the potential case would “go away” altogether if the company News UK ceased to exist, in the same way as the CPS cannot press charges against a person who has died.
Anil Rajani, a white collar crime specialist at IBB Law, said: “News UK can’t be charged as a corporate entity if it doesn’t exist as a corporation. And if a company is in the process of being wound up, it also counts as a factor against prosecution.”
It has been reported that News Corp said in an internal report that criminal charges against News UK would “kill the company and put 46,000 jobs in jeopardy”.
Shutting or selling the UK newspapers would be a drastic move, but it would not be the first time News Corp has taken bold steps to prevent the phone-hacking scandal from contaminating the rest of the company. In 2011 it shut down the News of the World newspaper once the biggest-selling weekly title in Britain and earlier this summer it split the News Corp business into two, cleaving its damaged newspaper and publishing business from its much more profitable film and television operations.
News Corp executives would have to weigh the potential benefits of keeping the prestigious UK newspapers going against the potential risks of News UK losing a criminal lawsuit.
Separating the companies has isolated the problem to some degree, but the publishing business and the film and entertainment business now News Corp and 21st Century Fox respectively still have a number of directors in common.
Analysts fear that a guilty verdict could prompt Ofcom to reassess whether BSkyB (LSE: BSY.L - news) , the satellite broadcaster 39pc owned by Mr Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, is “fit and proper” to hold a broadcasting licence.