Criminal charges against Rupert Murdoch insider and favorite Rebekah Brooks may be a prelude to looming charges arising out of Brooks' testimony before the Leveson Inquiry last week.
Crown Prosecution Services charged Brooks, her husband, and four others with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice on Tuesday May 15. The alleged conspiracy took place between July 6 and July 19, 2011.
Brooks and the co-conspirators concealed and removed materials sought by police in their investigation of phone hacking by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation subsidiary, News International, according to prosecutors. Brooks resigned as chief executive officer of the subsidiary on July 15, 2011. (Image: SnowViolent)
Brooks' current legal troubles should not obscure the significance of her testimony before the Leveson Inquiry last week. During her several hours on the witness stand, she was confronted with an explosive email that, if true, implicates Conservative Party Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a conspiracy to pervert the British regulatory process in favor of News Corporation's bid to acquire the ten-million-subscriber pay TV company BSkyB. News Corp owns 39% of the company. It sought the remaining 61%.
The acquisition was absolutely critical for for News Corp. BSkyB accounted for 14% of News Corp net income in 2011. Had the Murdoch's completed the acquisition by the start of 2011, BSkyB would have accounted for 36% of 2011 profits.
In addition to the Hunt-BSkyB evidence, Brooks' testimony at the Leveson Inquiry last week may result in additional charges of hiding and destroying evidence.
Were the emails lost on Brooks' BlackBerry part of the conspiracy to pervert the course of justice?
When Brooks left the News International CEO position in 2012, she surrendered her BlackBerry to the company. Under questioning by Queen's Counsel Robert Jay of the Leveson Inquiry on May 11, 2012, she noted of the emails that the BlackBerry had contained: "We had to image them and we had some problems with that." (See Brooks Blackberry.) The emails were all destroyed except one, a compressed message from Prime Minister David Cameron that had no content.
Queen's Counsel Jay pinned down the dates of the missing emails in this question: "So we have, as you explain, emails and texts which only cover a limited period, from the beginning of June 2011 until, you say, 17 July. Maybe 15 July or 17 July. Brooks responded, "I think it was the 17th."
Those dates include a portion of the time period during which prosecutors allege that Brooks engaged in the conspiracy to pervert justice. Brooks claimed that "my Blackberry was imaged by my legal team," the point at which the emails disappeared. If the lost BlackBerry emails are part of evidence destroyed or hidden, maybe it wasn't Brooks' legal team that imaged the BlackBerry and hid or destroyed the stored messages. No one on her legal team was charged in the conspiracy by Crown Prosecution Services.
Could it be that Brooks was somehow responsible for the destroyed or hidden emails? If so, her inquiry testimony last week makes her the star witness for her own prosecution. There is little doubt that Brooks provided vital evidence for any future prosecution of Jeremy Hunt.
The Michel-to-Brooks smoking gun email, June 27, 2011
high point of the Brooks testimony last Friday came when Queen's
Counsel asked about an email sent at 16:29 on June 27, 2011: "Frederic
Michel sends an email and it goes to just you" (full email).
Brooks seemed surprised even though she had reviewed the evidence prior
to the hearing: "I would be surprised if it just came to me. As you've
seen from the previous emails, they were always copies in to the same
-- almost the same group of people, but perhaps it was directly to me." (See Brooks 5.)
At the opening of the email, Michel tells Brooks that "Hunt will be making references to phone hacking in his statement on - this week " hacking has nothing to do with the media plurality issue."
Plurality refers to the criterion Jeremy Hunt has outlined as the basis for approving News Corp's bid to acquire the remaining shares of BSkyB. The term references the number and diversity of media outlets available to the British public. If the acquisition reduced media plurality, there would be cause to deny the bid (an unlikely outcome). Michel claimed that Hunt would exclude the explosive phone hacking allegations against News Corp's British newspapers from his considerations on bid approval.
If true, Michel's statement implies a conspiracy between Hunt and News Corp to rig the BSkyB approval process. Hunt would be acting as an agent for News Corp.
The Michel-to-Brooks memo ends with this: "JH [Hunt] is now starting to look into phone hacking/practices more thoroughly and has asked me to advise him privately in the coming weeks and guide his and Number 10 --s [Cameron's] positioning."