James Murdoch Faces More Questions Over Hacking Payment Authorization Claim

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The News Corp deputy COO has told Parliament that a payment of over $1 million was made to phone-hacking victim Max Clifford.

LONDON – James Murdoch’s handling of day-to-day operations at News International has again been called into question after it emerged that substantial payouts were made to phone-hacking victims without his knowledge.

In a letter to the House of Commons Culture Committee, Murdoch has claimed that News International agreed payments totalling more than $1.1 million with hacking victim Max Clifford without his knowledge.

Murdoch, who was - and remains - executive chairman of News International, has told the committee that the settlement was authorised by Rebekah Brooks, then CEO of News International.

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“Mrs Brooks did mention the agreement with Mr Clifford to me but she did not seek any authorization from me and nor did she discuss its terms with me.”

Murdoch was also asked by the committee if he had tried to find out why News International was paying out such a large sum to Clifford, and if he had asked what the implication of paying the settlement were.

“I did not discuss this point with anyone,” Murdoch replied in his letter.

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He was further asked by the committee if the company lawyer, Jonathan Chapman, had briefed him on the payment, and said he had “no recollection” of Chapman raising the matter with him or of asking Chapman about the payment.

Murdoch sought to explain his distance from the decisions by pointing out that he had been traveling for periods at a time. He has already been accused by some members of the committee of wilfully turning “ blind eye” to events that happened on his watch and being guilty "either of incompetence or cover up/"

The letter was published as part of a further cache of documents released by the Culture Media and Sport Committee, which is in the process of investigating phone-hacking.

In a separate letter, Rebekah Brooks wrote to the committee saying that she was not able to provide information to their inquiry without prejudicing the criminal investigation into the Clifford payment.

“Your request places me in the impossible position in that you are asking me to deal with the issues that directly impact on the police investigation. In turn this directly affects the fairness of the investigative process to which I am subject," she wrote. Brooks was arrested in July and remains on police bail.

Earlier, News Corporation’s management standards committee had confirmed that Tom Watson, one of News Corporation’s fiercest critics, had been put under surveillance in 2009.