Thu, Aug 25, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Probe sought into News International payments

CONTRADICTIONS:One Labour lawmaker wants the Electoral Commission to investigate whether the payments amounted to political donations

The Guardian, LONDON

The UK Electoral Commission is being asked to investigate whether Rupert Murdoch’s News International (NI) payments to Andy Coulson after he started working for the UK Conservative Party may have broken the law.

Labor Member of Parliament Tom Watson said he wanted the Electoral Commission to investigate whether the payments and benefits — which reportedly included private health insurance and a company car — should have been declared because they amounted to a political donation.

MPs on the committee are also angry because the reports appear to contradict evidence given to it by Coulson himself. The former News of the World editor, who worked as British Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications chief from July 2007 until January this year, is expected to face further questioning from the committee about the payments.

On Monday night, the BBC’s Robert Peston said Coulson had received several hundred thousand pounds from NI after he started working for the Conservative Party.

Coulson was known to have received a payoff after he resigned from the News of the World in January 2007 following the conviction of the journalist Clive Goodman and the investigator Glenn Mulcaire for phone hacking.

However, Peston said Coulson received his severance pay in installments and that he continued receiving money from NI until the end of 2007. Peston also said Coulson continued to receive his NI work benefits, such as healthcare, for three years and that he kept his company car.

The report casts doubt on the reliability of the evidence that Coulson gave to the culture committee in 2009. Coulson, who at the time was working for the Conservative Party on a reported salary of £275,000 (US$454,000) — about half what he was thought to have been earning at the paper — said he did not have any “secondary income.”

Watson asked: “So your sole income was News International and then your sole income was the Conservative Party?”

Coulson replied: “Yes.”

On Tuesday, John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP who chairs the Culture Committee, said Coulson and NI should have been more open with it about the arrangement.

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