Ex-Murdoch media legal executive arrested in British hacking case

LONDON -- Police have arrested Tom Crone, a former legal executive in the Murdoch-owned News International group, the latest to be apprehended in connection with ongoing investigations into illegal phone hacking. 

In a brief statement, Scotland Yard announced the arrest Thursday of a “60-year-old man ... on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications" as part their inquiry “into the hacking of telephone voicemail boxes.”  He was taken for questioning to a London police station.

Crone was a senior member in the legal department of News International, News Corp.’s British media branch, with responsibility for the legal affairs of News of the World.  He quit after revelations in July 2011 that the paper’s reporters had paid private investigators to illegally hack into the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler in 2009, prompting myriad judicial, civil and political inquiries.

Questioned by a panel of lawmakers last year, Crone claimed he was “pretty sure” that in 2008 he had informed James Murdoch, then-News International executive chairman, of suspected widespread phone hacking within News International papers and that it went beyond one or two "rogue reporters" including Clive Goodman, jailed in 2007 for hacking into phones of the British royal family.  James Murdoch subsequently denied being informed of this.  

Crone also said he advised James Murdoch in 2008 to stave off a threatened lawsuit by paying almost a million dollars to soccer executive Gordon Taylor who claimed his phone had been hacked by NI journalists.

In a statement in April, Crone rejected evidence provided by Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. chairman, implying that Crone was responsible for what Murdoch termed a "culture of cover-up" of phone hacking within the company. He called it a "shameful lie."

More than 70 phone- and computer-hacking-related arrests have been made in three different police operations.   Most of those nabbed have been media executives and journalists later released on bail. Eight have been charged with hacking-related offenses, including Andy Coulson, former media advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron, and Rebekah Brooks, former News International executive.

Crone’s arrest comes a day after former London Times writer Patrick Foster, 29, was taken into custody on suspicion of computer hacking, the first journalist to be targeted from the flagship Murdoch daily.


Police arrest ex-London Times journalist in computer hacking case

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 -- Janet Stobart

Police arrest ex-London Times journalist in computer hacking case

LONDON -- Police arrested a former London Times journalist, named by the British press as 28-year-old Patrick Foster, Wednesday morning on suspicion of illegal computer hacking. 

The arrest is the latest in ongoing investigations into phone hacking-related crimes which began last July, after revelations of illegal hacking into the cellphone of a murdered teenager by the popular tabloid the News of World caused public outrage.

Police said the arrest “for suspected offenses under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and suspected conspiracy to pervert the course of justice,” was part of their “investigation into criminal breaches
of privacy, including computer hacking which is being carried out in conjunction with MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] phone-hacking inquiries.”

One of several arrests following the News of the World exposure and subsequent judicial investigations among employees of News International, the British subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., and other tabloid papers, it is the first to strike the Murdoch's flagship daily, The Times.

Press reports said ex-Times home affairs writer Foster was arrested on suspicion of using illegal email hacking to expose the identity of a police blogger known as Night Jack in 2009. The police statement says the arrested man "is being questioned at a North London police station about alleged computer hacking relating to the identification of a previously anonymous blogger in 2009."

In a court case brought against the Times by Richard Horton, a police officer revealed
by Foster as the author of the award-winning Night Jack blog, which recounted the day-to-day realities of police work, Foster’s evidence disguised the fact he originally discovered Horton’s identity by hacking into his email.

Before his exposure, Horton lost a plea for an injunction to protect his identity resulting in his outing by the Times, the judge ruling he had been exposed by legitimate means.

The Leveson inquiry, a judge-led civil investigation that is one of the several probes into media practices opened last summer, heard from Times editorial and legal representatives this year that they were aware of but ignored the real origins of Foster’s disclosure of Horton’s identity. 

The Leveson inquiry is expected to file its findings in coming weeks, after a year’s questioning of
media and media-related figures.  

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Prince Harry photos: British tabloids shy away from royal skin

British media steers clear of nude photos of Prince Harry

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

British tabloids have held off on splashing nude photos of Prince Harry cavorting in a Las Vegas hotel room across their pages, resorting to staged photos and other shots to cover the story.

The British press is hardly known for its restraint with royal skin: Sarah Ferguson was once snapped sunbathing topless with an American businessman while separated from her husband. Nude photos of her ex, Prince Andrew, have also turned up in British tabloids.

But in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that has eight former News of the World employees facing criminal charges and Britain weighing firmer regulations on the press, British media outlets appear to be more circumspect in exposing the prince -- or perhaps just more skittish about running afoul of the law.

Newspapers were said to be warned that running the nude shots could land them in court for invading his privacy, because the racy photos were taken in a private hotel room before being leaked to gossip site TMZ.

“Farcically British websites, newspapers and television stations were prevented from reproducing them after Prince Charles instructed lawyers to threaten legal action for infringing Prince Harry’s ‘privacy,’” the Daily Mail huffed.

The naked photos weren’t actually banned: Royal officials sent a letter to the watchdog Press Complaints Commission asking them to advise newspapers not to run the images. The commission then passed their concerns on to newspapers, without taking a stand on whether to print them.

Continue reading »

Myanmar stops censoring articles before they go to print


Journalists in Myanmar will no longer have to send their articles to state censors before publication, a landmark step announced Monday toward lifting restrictions on the press.

But reporters in the changing country still fear being punished for what they write. Free speech activists say other rules that clamp down on government criticism or touchy topics are still in place, inhibiting journalists from writing freely.

“If you break the law, what’s going to happen?” asked Aye Chan Naing, chief editor of Democratic Voice of Burma, which broadcasts news on Myanmar from Norway. “The laws are still there.”

Myanmar, long isolated under a military junta, has been tiptoeing toward reform over the past year, freeing hundreds of political prisoners and allowing democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi to run for office. The changes have won it new investment from abroad. Media censorship has slowly eased as well, allowing once-prohibited photos of Suu Kyi to show up in the press.

A government official told reporters earlier this year that the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division would be abolished, its next step toward reform. But while the Monday announcement said the censorship board would no longer shape articles before they went to print, it will still scrutinize what gets printed after the fact, according to media watchdogs.

“This is a sea change only because the bar was so low before,” said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, director of the Southeast Asia Program at Freedom House. “We’re a long way away from freedom of the press.”

Continue reading »

WikiLeaks' Julian Assange urges U.S. to end 'war on whistle-blowers'

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called on the U.S. to end its “war on whistle-blowers” and demanded the release of Bradley Manning, the American soldier suspected of passing thousands of classified documents to Assange’s secret-spilling website
LONDON -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Sunday called on the U.S. to end its "war on whistle-blowers" and demanded the release of Bradley Manning, the American soldier suspected of passing thousands of classified documents to Assange's secret-spilling website.

Assange made the appeal from the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has been holed up for two months in an effort to avoid arrest and extradition to Sweden to face charges of sexual assault. It was the 41-year-old Australian's first public appearance since seeking refuge inside
the embassy June 19.

He was careful to remain on embassy property and thus out of reach of British police, who have vowed to arrest him the instant he crosses into the public domain. By international convention, embassies are the sovereign territory of the countries they represent.

Assange thanked Ecuador for granting him political asylum Thursday and said President Rafael Correa had displayed courage, although Correa has been criticized for cracking down on journalists in his own country.

Assange made no mention of the actual allegations he is fleeing –- namely, that he sexually assaulted two women in Stockholm in August 2010. The Swedish government had asked for his arrest and extradition from Britain so that investigators could question Assange, who acknowledges having sex with the women but insists that it was consensual.

Assange and his supporters say the allegations are merely a pretext for his eventual extradition to the U.S., which they believe wants to try him -– and perhaps execute him –- for espionage. As yet, no charges have formally been brought against Assange in the U.S.

"We must use this moment to articulate the choice that is before the government of the United States of America," Assange told a crowd of supporters who waited outside the Ecuadorean Embassy, in one of London's toniest neighborhoods.

"Will it return and reaffirm the revolutionary values it was founded on, or will it lurch off the precipice and bring us all into a dangerous world in which journalists fall silent from the fear of prosecution?" Assange said. "I ask President Obama to do the right thing."


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Photo: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange delivers a statement Sunday from a balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he has sought asylum in London. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga / EPA


Ecuador grants asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

LONDON -- Ecuador said Thursday it would grant political asylum to Julian Assange, the controversial founder of the whistle-blowing WikiLeaks website who has been holed up for nearly two months inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual assault.

Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said that Assange's legal and procedural rights had been violated, and that Ecuador accepted his argument that he faced possible political persecution by the United States, which is angry over his release of secret government files.

"We believe his fears are legitimate," Patino told reporters in Quito, the Ecuadorean capital, Thursday morning.

PHOTOS: Assange granted asylum in Ecuador

The much-anticipated decision immediately turned Assange's legal fight into a diplomatic standoff between Ecuador and Britain, which says that it is obliged to turn Assange, 41, over to authorities in Sweden, a fellow member of the European Union.

For Assange himself, the announcement from Quito remains only a symbolic victory for the moment. Britain has refused to grant him safe passage out of the country; rather, police say that Assange is subject to immediate arrest if he sets foot outside the embassy because he breached his bail conditions.

Assange's supporters gathered outside the embassy before the decision was announced. A few protesters were arrested after scuffles with police, Sky News reported.

Ecuador's decision comes amid increasing acrimony between London and Quito over the Assange case. On Wednesday, Patino sharply rebuked the British government for what he described as a threat to raid its embassy to arrest Assange. By convention, embassies are considered sovereign territory of the countries they represent.

Ecuador is not "a British colony," Patino warned.

Assange, who is an Australian citizen, denies allegations that he sexually assaulted two women in Stockholm in August 2010. He has acknowledged having sex with them on separate occasions but disputes their accusations that coercion or force was involved.

He and his supporters insist that the allegations are part of a plot to remove him from Britain and ultimately to ship him to the U.S., which Assange says wants to try –- and possibly execute -– him for orchestrating the leak of thousands of classified State Department and Pentagon documents.

Assange took refuge inside Ecuador's embassy, located in one of London's toniest districts, on June 19, after his legal appeals against being sent to Sweden were virtually exhausted. Earlier that month, Britain's Supreme Court ruled that his extradition could proceed.

The request for political asylum in a third country was a bizarre twist in a saga that has dragged on since Assange was first arrested in December 2010. Although Assange remained "beyond the reach" of police while inside the embassy, Scotland Yard warned that he faced arrest the moment he stepped outside it for violating his bail conditions, which obligated him to abide by a nightly curfew at a
designated address.

The WikiLeaks founder had previously developed some kind of rapport with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa. Assange interviewed Correa on a Kremlin-backed television show called "Russia Today," a sympathetic exchange in which the two men traded gibes about American arrogance.

Critics have noted the irony of Assange, a free-speech campaigner, appealing for help from a leader who has been accused of mounting a crackdown on journalists in Ecuador.


WikiLeaks chief Assange arrested in sex-crime case

Ecuador expected to decide fate of WikiLeaks' Assange

WikiLeaks' Julian Assange faces arrest, Scotland Yard says

-- Henry Chu

Special correspondent Cristina Munoz in Quito contributed to this report.

As Olympics wind down, India's 'mystery lady in red' moves on

M7xeabpdNEW DELHI -- Madhura K. Nagendra, the mystery “lady in red” who sparked anger and wounded pride among many Indians when she appeared alongside athletes at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics last month, said she’s tried to tune out all the hateful responses and doesn’t think the 15 minutes of fame will help her dance career or future professional life.

“It’s all over and done, I’m just trying to concentrate on my work,” she said by telephone from Bangalore on Friday. “I’m an introvert. I don’t even think in dance it would help my career. Maybe if I were going for mainstream movies, it might, but I don’t think so.”

Nagendra kicked up a dust storm when, initially unidentified, she appeared in a red track top and blue trousers at the head of the 40-athlete Indian contingent beside flag-bearer and wrestler Sushil Kumar. Indian officials jumped on the London organizers for security lapses, as others fumed that India was insulted in its moment of glory.

"The Indian contingent was shown for hardly 10 seconds in the TV coverage,” India’s acting Olympic delegation head, P. K. Muralidharan Raja, told the Press Trust of India news service, “and the entire focus sadly was on this lady, instead of the athletes."

Social media went viral, slamming her as a potential terrorist, gate-crasher, attention seeker. “Mystery woman stirs trouble,” blared one Indian TV headline. “India clueless,” said another, as websites sprung up showing doctored images of her gate crashing the moon landing, the birth of India in 1947 and President Obama’s swearing-in ceremony. Social critics ventured that her actions epitomized a sense of entitlement among young affluent Indians.

After a bit of poking around, Olympic officials confirmed she had Games credentials and was vetted as part of the opening ceremony dance cast. “She was slightly overexcited," Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London organizing committee, told the media.

Nagendra, whose Facebook page (now deactivated) describes her as "a very bouncy, lively, cheerful, confident, talented and amiable juvenile lass," declined to speak about how she happened to wander into the delegation or what exactly she was thinking, adding that she had said enough. But in earlier comments to India’s NDTV network she said things were a bit chaotic that night, the lights were bright and she was blinded, leading to her getting swept along by mistake.

She was initially all but oblivious to the storm brewing in India over her appearance, she said, since it wasn’t a big deal in London.

“I learned when my folks called and told me how much hype there was in India, with people saying this and that,” she said. “One thing I’ve learned, the media is immensely powerful.”

Speaking with reporters on her return last week to India, she apologized, terming her appearance an error of judgment and expressing regret that she “hurt the sentiments of my people.”  

Although India is the world’s second-most populous nation with some 1.2 billion people, it hasn’t done well in the Olympics with its one silver and three bronze medals, placing it alongside Slovakia and Armenia.

“With India's medals being few and far between, Madhura has made a case for gate-crashing to be included as an event in future Olympics,” quipped the Economic Times newspaper, while a viral text-message during India’s badminton matches with China suggested that Nagendra be dispatched to distract the opposing team.

Nagendra said it has been pretty difficult living through it all, but adds that she is strong and moving on. And while most of the outcry was negative, she has garnered a few supporters through it all.

“Lighten up, India,” said Twitter user CapitanoRay. “Love the nerve of Olympic 'gate-crasher' Madhura Nagendra,” added Twitter user Putajumperon. “Don't think she owes anyone an apology.” 


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Photo: Indian flag-bearer and wrestler Sushil Kumar looks over at "mystery woman" Madhura K. Nagendra in red during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games last month. Credit: Jonathan Brady / European Pressphoto Agency. 

Sensational China murder case gets muted news coverage


The sensational murder case of Gu Kailai in China has not gotten the sensational coverage that Westerners are accustomed to in major trials, according to media observers and news reports.

The accusation that Gu, the wife of former Politburo member Bo Xilai, poisoned a British businessman has dominated headlines and Internet news searches in the West. Chinese state media covered the case as it went to trial Thursday, but the news often played second banana to an injured Chinese Olympic hurdler undergoing surgery and other Olympics coverage.

Instead of breathless coverage or commentary, many major news outlets reprinted the simple official account from the New China News Agency. In the English edition of the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, the online story ran below articles on the global arms market and the United States’ purported meddling in the South China Sea debate.

Chinese officials have taken pains to show the trial was fair; though foreign journalists were kept out of the courtroom, the briefing given after the trial was unusual in a sensitive case, The Times’ Barbara Demick reports from Beijing.

But while state television broadcast video of the defendant being led into court and the two British diplomats allowed in to observe, no news of the trial appeared on the main evening news broadcast for CCTV, which is more widely seen and tightly controlled, the Associated Press reported.

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Tetra Pak heir Hans Kristian Rausing sentenced in Britain

Hans Kristian Rausing and wife Eva Rausing
LONDON -- Hans Kristian Rausing, a wealthy heir to the Tetra Pak drink cartons fortune, Wednesday received a 10-month suspended jail sentence from a British court after pleading guilty to preventing the lawful and decent burial of his wife.

Rausing, 49, also received a two-month suspended sentence for driving under the influence of drugs and was ordered to complete a residential drug rehabilitation program, to start immediately,  officials said.

Eva Rausing’s body was found in advanced state of decomposition July 9 after her husband was stopped and arrested on suspicion of  driving under the influence of drugs.  Drugs and drug paraphernalia were  found in his car. 

After questioning Rausing, police found his 48-year-old wife’s body under piles of clothing and plastic bags in the couple’s luxury apartment in West London's Chelsea district. Authorities believe she died in early May.

The cause of death remains undetermined for the American-born daughter of a wealthy Pepsi executive. Officials have said an autopsy showed that cocaine and amphetamines in her system.

Eva Rausing had entered a drug rehabilitation program in California before returning to London in April, according to news reports.

Judge Richard McGregor-Johnson on Wednesday told Rausing his behavior was “an illustration of the utterly destructive effects of drug misuse.”

The judge said that despite the advantages of wealth enjoyed by Rausing and his wife and periods of rehabilitation,  "Your relapse into the misuse of drugs, together with that of your wife, destroyed all that.”

In a statement read in court, Rausing said he had been “traumatized” by his wife’s death and did “not have a very coherent recollection of events leading up to and since Eva’s death....  I tried to carry on as if her death had not happened and batted away any inquiries about her.”

Rausing's lawyer, Alexander Cameron, brother of Prime Minister David Cameron, reportedly told the court Rausing acted “when as Shakespeare would put it, the balance of his mind was disturbed.”

Gary Dolby, head of homicide for the prosecutor's office in London, said in a statement:

"Mr. Rausing has well documented personal problems which no doubt contributed to his actions in the weeks following his wife's death. However, he went to some lengths to conceal her body despite numerous opportunities to tell someone what had happened. This resulted in Mrs. Rausing's family being unaware of her death for some time after it happened.

"His actions were unlawful and it is right that he now has a criminal conviction."


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-- Janet Stobart

Photo: Eva Rausing and her husband, Hans Kristian Rausing, in London. Credit: Alan Davidson / Associated Press


Phone-hacking scandal: Rebekah Brooks, seven others to be charged

Prosecutors announced criminal charges against eight people in Britain's phone-hacking scandal. Among those charged are Rebekah Brooks, once one of Rupert Murdoch's most trusted lieutenants, and Andy Coulson, a former senior aide to Prime Minister David Cameron
LONDON -- Prosecutors announced criminal charges Tuesday against eight people in connection with Britain's phone-hacking scandal, including a onetime confidante of media baron Rupert Murdoch and a former senior aide to Prime Minister David Cameron.

The eight suspects are accused of illegally tapping into the cellphones of celebrities, politicians and others in the public spotlight, including a teenage kidnap victim who was later found slain. All worked at one time for the News of the World, a tabloid that was notorious for its ruthless pursuit of sensational stories before Murdoch shut it down last year as a result of the hacking scandal.

Among those to be charged is Rebekah Brooks, once a trusted Murdoch lieutenant who headed his British newspapers, including the News of the World, before she resigned in disgrace.

Photos: British phone-hacking scandal

Also facing charges is Andy Coulson, a former editor at the controversial tabloid who served as the prime minister's communications advisor before stepping down early last year. Coulson's involvement in the furor over phone hacking has been deeply embarrassing for Cameron, whose government has been accused of being too cozy with the Murdoch media empire.

The six others to be charged include former senior journalists at the News of the World and a private investigator hired by the newsweekly to ferret out scoops.

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