US lawmakers urge probe into News Corp hacking

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Key US lawmakers on Wednesday ramped up calls for a formal US probe into the phone-hacking firestorm at Rupert Murdoch's media empire, with one senator predicting it would turn up "criminal" misdeeds.

Democratic Senators Jay Rockefeller and Barbara Boxer urged Attorney General Eric Holder and Mary Schapiro, chief of the Wall Street watchdog Securities and Exchange Commission, to launch investigations into the scandal.

The lawmakers, Democrats who chair the US Senate's Commerce and Environment and Public Works committees, respectively, cited allegations that employees of Murdoch's news outlets hacked the phones of September 11 victims.

"The reported allegations against News Corporation are very serious, indicate a pattern of illegal activity, and involve thousands of potential victims," the lawmakers said in a letter to Holder and Schaprio.

"It is important to ensure that no United States laws were broken and no United States citizens were victimized," said Rockefeller and Schapiro.

They also pointed to charges that employees of Murdoch's News Corporation -- a US-based firm -- had bribed British police as part of the hacking scandal, saying that would violate US law, namely the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez wrote Holder separately to urge a probe into charges by a British lawmaker that Murdoch employees had hacked into the phones of victims of the terrorist strikes ten years ago.

"The US government must ensure that victims in the United States have not been subjected to illegal and unconscionable actions by these newspapers seeking to exploit information about their personal tragedies for profit," he said.

And Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg also wrote to Holder and Schapiro to urge an investigation and said "further investigation may reveal that current reports only scratch the surface of the problem at News Corporation."

The Justice Department declined to comment on the growing congressional chorus of outrage, with a spokeswoman telling AFP: "We don't typically confirm or deny investigations even if one were to happen."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the issue was "not on our radar" even though "we're aware of it."

But Rockefeller, a former Senate intelligence committee chairman, told reporters he was sure that an investigation would turn up "criminal stuff" and said his powerful committee "might" lead its own probe.

Rockefeller said that his "bet" was that "we'll find criminal stuff" linked to hacking of telephones of US citizens.

"This will be a huge issue," he said.

Rockefeller had called Tuesday for "the appropriate agencies" of the US government to probe whether alleged hacking by members of Murdoch's media empire extended to US citizens and warned of "severe" consequences.

"I am concerned that the admitted phone hacking in London by the News Corp. may have extended to 9/11 victims or other Americans. If they did, the consequences will be severe," said Rockefeller, a Democrat.

Under British government pressure, Murdoch dramatically dropped his bid for control of pay-TV giant BSkyB Wednesday.

Hours before Britain's three main parties were set to back an extraordinary parliamentary vote calling for the withdrawal of the bid, Murdoch's US-based News Corp. said it was now "too difficult to progress in this climate."

British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the news, saying the Australian-born tycoon should focus on cleaning up his business after the scandal which forced the closure of the News of the World tabloid on Sunday.

After decades as Britain's political kingmaker, Murdoch has seen his empire threatened by a wave of public outrage over the hacking of voicemails belonging to people including a murdered girl and the families of dead troops.

In the United States, Murdoch's Fox News Channel is seen by Democrats as a tool of their Republican rivals.

© 2011 AFP

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