U.K. to Charge Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson, Others in Corruption Probe

UPDATED: The former top journalists of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. will be prosecuted for payments to public officials in exchange for news and phone numbers of Royals.

LONDON - British prosecutors here said Tuesday that they have enough evidence in a corruption investigation involving illegal payments to public officials to bring criminal charges against at least five people, including four top former and current journalists at the U.K. newspaper unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

The decision follows a police probe into alleged illegal payments by journalists to public officials in exchange for information, such as phone numbers for Britain's Royal Family and news for publication in tabloids.

Among the current and former News International journalists arrested over the course of the probe were former CEO Rebekah Brooks and former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who later worked as communications advisor for British Prime Minister David Cameron. Both were on Tuesday named as people to be charged along with three other veterans of News Corp.'s News International arm in the U.K.

The others are Clive Goodman, the former royal correspondent for News of the World, John Kay, the former chief reporter of the Sun who is the only journalists to be charged who still works for News International, and Bettina Jordan Barber, an employee of the Ministry of Defense. A sixth unnamed person is still being investigated, prosecutors said.

Britain's Crown Prosecution Service announced the decisions following what London Metropolitan Police, also known as Scotland Yard, had dubbed "Operation Elveden." The investigation was triggered by the long-running phone hacking probe.

Alison Levitt, principal legal advisor to the director of public prosecutions, said that after being charged, all individuals will appear before the Westminster Magistrates’ Court on a date yet to be determined.

Barber, Kay and  Brooks are set to be charged with "a conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office" between Jan. 2004 and Jan. 2012. "This conspiracy relates to information allegedly provided by Bettina Jordan Barber for payment, which formed the basis of a series of news stories published by The Sun," Levitt said. "It is alleged that approximately $159,000 (£100,000) was paid to Bettina Jordan Barber between 2004 and 2011."

Goodman and Coulson should be charged with two conspiracies, prosecutors said. "The allegations relate to the request and authorization of payments to public officials in exchange for information, including a Palace phone directory known as the “Green Book” containing contact details for the Royal Family and Members of the Household," Levitt said.

News International didn't immediately have a comment.

Overall, the police probe has led to the arrests of more than four dozen people, including 21 Sun journalists and a slew of public officials. Beyond News International, the probe has also looked at alleged illegal payments from British newspaper groups Trinity Mirror and Express Newspapers.

Brooks and Coulson this summer were already charged in the phone hacking investigation.

Brooks was charged with three counts of conspiracy to intercept voice mail messages. Coulson was charged with five counts of conspiracy to intercept communications. That trial is currently expected to start in Sept. 2013.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai