Lawmaker seeks new information over phone hacking

Thursday, August 25, 2011

LONDON -- A leading lawmaker examining the country's phone hacking scandal called Wednesday on Rupert Murdoch's news empire to confirm whether it is paying the legal fees of the ex-editor of the News of The World.

Andy Coulson quit in 2007 as the editor of the now-shuttered tabloid after a reporter and a private investigator were jailed for hacking into the voicemails of royal staff. Soon after, then-opposition leader David Cameron hired him as his communications chief and kept him on when Cameron became prime minister in May 2010.

Coulson quit Downing Street when police reopened the investigation into phone hacking this January.

He is among 15 people arrested in the scandal -- only one of whom has been cleared so far. Coulson denies any wrongdoing, but allegations against him and about his ties to News Corp. have continued to mount.

News Corp.'s British arm, News International, declined to comment Wednesday on a Financial Times report that claimed the company was still meeting Coulson's legal expenses.

"What it is about this news and information conglomerate that prevents them from giving a yes or no reply to a straight question?" opposition Labour Party lawmaker Tom Watson said.

Watson has been a leading figure in the campaign to expose illicit practices in British journalism, and is a member of Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which is investigating the scandal.

"I call on James Murdoch to just say whether or not his company is paying Andy Coulson's legal fees," Watson said.

News International has also declined to discuss a previous BBC report that claimed Coulson received severance pay amounting to several hundred thousand dollars in the months after he quit in 2007, including during a period after he was working for Cameron.

The BBC, which did not cite sources, reported that Coulson had also kept his health care plan and company car. Coulson received a reported salary of about $490,000 as editor of the tabloid.

According to a report in the Guardian Newspaper, Coulson's failure to disclose those payments and benefits when he was in possession of an access pass to parliamentary estates put him in breach of House of Commons rules.

The records also show that for at least two months after he resigned from his position as No. 10s head of communications in January this year, Coulson continued to hold a parliamentary pass, sponsored by Downing Street, which allowed him access to parliament as a No. 10 employee.

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