LONDON (AP) — The deputy editor at The Sun tabloid in Britain has been charged with authorizing thousands of pounds in illegal payoffs to government officials, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
The charges against Geoff Webster are the latest in a drumbeat of criminal charges against employees of Rupert Murdoch's media empire. Scores of journalists — most of them British employees of Murdoch's New York-based News Corp. — have been involved in a wide-ranging scandal over phone hacking, police bribery, and a host of other media misdeeds. The scandal has spawned a series of overlapping investigations and was the impetus for a controversial plan to install a tough new U.K. media regulator with unprecedented powers.
News International, Murdoch's London-based unit responsible for publishing The Sun, confirmed that Webster is still an employee of the tabloid but had no immediate comment on the charges. In a statement, Britain's Crown Prosecution Service said Webster was accused of authorizing a 6,500 pound (nearly $10,000) payment to an unidentified public official in return for information given to an unidentified Sun employee between July 2010 and August 2011. That was right around the time when rumblings about the phone hacking scandal were beginning to emerge.
A second charge relates to a similar but smaller payment made in November 2010. Webster joins a small but growing list of senior journalists at The Sun who are facing prosecution over illegal payments and other crimes.
In January, the paper's defense editor, Virginia Wheeler, was charged along with Constable Paul Flattley with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office. Flattley is accused of receiving 6,450 pounds between 2008 and 2011 for information on "accidents, incidents and crimes" — including details about the death of a teenage girl.
Webster is due to appear at London's Westminster Magistrates' Court on Tuesday.