News Corp. (NWSA:US), still seeking to move past a hacking scandal at its U.K. newspapers, has nominated to its board a former Colombian president whose administration was itself embroiled in an illegal wiretapping controversy.
Close allies of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe have been accused by prosecutors of ordering illegal wiretaps against political opponents, journalists who covered the administration and Supreme Court justices who were probing pro- government lawmakers’ alleged ties to paramilitary groups.
Uribe’s former chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno, was arrested on criminal charges in a case last year and has denied wrongdoing. Uribe helped his former intelligence chief, Maria del Pilar Hurtado, seek political asylum in Panama to avoid a similar fate. News Corp. (NWS:US), run by billionaire Rupert Murdoch, had no comment, spokesman Nathaniel Brown said. Uribe, who hasn’t been charged of wrongdoing, couldn’t be reached.
“The optics of this are terrible,” Adam Isacson, a Colombia specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America, said in a phone interview. “When people talk about the dark side of Uribe, this is one of the main scandals that sullied his reputation.”
News Corp. continues to face multiple police investigations in the U.K. for hacking into mobile phones and computers as well as bribing public officials. U.K. authorities are also considering whether to bring corporate charges against News Corp.’s board for the alleged crimes. At least 60 people have been arrested since police began probes last year into hacking and bribery that started at News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid.
In addition to nominating Uribe, News Corp. also named former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao as a proposed board member, according to a statement yesterday. The nominees will replace Andrew Knight and John Thornton, who plan to step down as directors following the company’s annual meeting, scheduled to take place on Oct. 16 in Los Angeles.
News Corp. is preparing for broader organizational changes next year. Murdoch announced a plan in June to break up News Corp.’s publishing and entertainment divisions into separate companies. Murdoch will remain chairman of both businesses and CEO of the entertainment division.
The Harvard-educated Uribe was president of Colombia from 2002 to 2010 and more recently served on an advisory council for JPMorgan Chase & Co.
The spying scandal around Uribe’s administration broke in 2009 after Bogota-based magazine Semana revealed that agents were spying on prominent Uribe foes. To quell public outrage, Uribe’s former defense minister and successor, Juan Manuel Santos, in 2011 shut down the intelligence agency, which had worked closely with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
While Uribe has denied ever ordering illegal wiretaps while in power, he’s defended his allies amid calls by the opposition for a broader probe.
News Corp. already has a business tie to a member of Uribe’s administration. The company’s new Spanish-language broadcast network, MundoFox, is a joint venture with RCN Television SA, one of Colombia’s largest media companies. Uribe’s vice president, Francisco Santos, took over as head of RCN radio’s news division after stepping down in 2010.
News Corp. gained 0.9 percent to $23.75 at the close in New York trading. The shares have risen 33 percent this year.
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