Sun Accused Of Culture Of Illegal Payments

The U.K. police official leading criminal probes into alleged wrongdoing at News Corp.'s U.K. newspaper operations asserted that the company's tabloid, the Sun, had a "culture…of illegal payments" by journalists to a wide array of public officials.

A picture taken on February 26, 2012 in London, shows front pages of today's edition of the new British Newspaper 'The Sun on Sunday.' Rupert Murdoch's Sun on Sunday tabloid rolled off the presses for the first time, with a pledge that the paper replacing the scandal-hit News of the World would abide by ethical standards.

The U.K. police official leading criminal probes into alleged wrongdoing at News Corp.'s U.K. newspaper operations asserted that the company's tabloid, the Sun, had a "culture…of illegal payments" by journalists to a wide array of public officials.

During testimony Monday to a judge-led inquiry into British media practices, Sue Akers, deputy assistant commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police, said that journalists in search of scoops had allegedly made payments to officials in the police force, military, health, government, prison services and other areas of public life.

Ms. Akers' comments came just a day after News Corp. launched a Sunday edition of the Sun here, an effort to fill a void created last year when it abruptly closed the News of the World, a Sunday tabloid, amid a growing scandal over illegal reporting tactics. The company is now faced with getting the new paper off the ground even as it contends with the flow of bad news about the Sun from the criminal probe.

Ms. Akers said police aren't looking to force the closure of the Sun. Nonetheless, she detailed a tabloid operation in which alleged payments by Sun journalists were frequent and often involved significant sums of money.

In one instance, an official allegedly received more than £80,000 ($127,000) over a period of years, Ms. Akers detailed during her testimony. And, one of the Sun journalists arrested is alleged to have received £150,000 over several years to pay sources, a number of whom were public officials, according to the deputy assistant commissioner.

Police have arrested 22 people in relation to the corruption probe. That includes 16 journalists, three police officers, a member of the armed forces, a member of the ministry of defense and a relative of a public official who allegedly acted as a conduit to hide a check payment to the official. The arrest tally is higher when the two other criminal probes, including the one into phone-hacking, are included. No one has been charged in any of the investigations.

"There appears to have been a culture at the Sun of illegal payments, and systems have been created to facilitate such payments whilst hiding the identity of the officials receiving the money," Ms. Akers said. She said authorization for the payments were made at "a senior level within the newspaper."

News Corp.'s Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch said Monday the company has vowed "to get to the bottom of prior wrongdoings." He added: "The practices Sue Akers described at the Leveson Inquiry are ones of the past, and no longer exist at the Sun. We have already emerged a stronger company."

News Corp. also owns The Wall Street Journal.

The Sun is the U.K.'s best-selling newspaper and historically has been an important source of profit in News Corp.'s British newspaper stable, which also includes the Times and Sunday Times.

In another development, the lead questioner in the inquiry read out an e-mail from September 2006 that suggests some senior officials at News Corp.'s British newspaper unit knew back then that the News of the World's use of voice-mail interception was likely extensive, even though the company was describing the practice as isolated.

The email, sent by News of the World lawyer Tom Crone to the tabloid's then-editor Andy Coulson, describes information that then-Sun editor Rebekah Brooks had found out from police at the time of an earlier phone-hacking probe. In that email, Mr. Crone says police had a list of 100 to 110 phone-hack victims and found evidence of payments to a private eye for phone hacking that appeared to total more than £1 million.

Yet the email also indicates that Ms. Brooks was told that police weren't planning to widen their investigation of the tabloid's staff beyond the single reporter and a private investigator who had by then been arrested.

News Corp.'s U.K. newspaper unit has faced civil suits filed by celebrities, politicians and other alleged victims of phone hacking. The company has settled dozens of claims in recent months, including most recently with Welsh singer Charlotte Church. On Monday, a lawyer for Ms. Church said that the company had agreed to pay £600,000, including legal costs.

"In my opinion, they are not truly sorry—only sorry they got caught," Ms. Church said in a public statement outside the courthouse.