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Murdoch Likened to 'Mafia Boss' as He Repeats Denials

James Murdoch repeatedly insisted in front of British MPs Thursday that he did not know that phone-hacking at the News of the World went beyond a few rogue reporters.

James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch and Chairman and Chief Executive of News Corporation, Europe and Asia.
Miguel Villagran | Getty Images

The former apparent heir to the News Corp media empire denied claims from other executives at the company's New International unit that he had "misled" a parliamentary committee during previous testimony he gave with father Rupert, in July.

Instead, he said that the executives, ex-head of legal Tom Crone and former News of the World Editor Colin Myler, had themselves "misled" the committee when they said that they had told him about a critical document.

Asked whether being unaware of the scale of phone hacking, which police believe had almost 6,000 victims, meant that he was incompetent, Murdoch denied it.

Tom Watson, the MP on the committee who questioned Murdoch most aggressively at his last appearance, said Murdoch was "the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal organization."

Murdoch called the description "inappropriate" and said it was "offensive" to suggest an "omerta" culture had helped hide the problems at News International.

He did not deny that journalists at other News International newspapers may have taken part in phone hacking. A journalist from The Sun newspaper was arrested in relation to phone hacking last weekend.

Murdoch did not rule out closing the tabloid, Britain's most popular daily, if widespread phone hacking is found to have occurred there.

He was adamant that he was not shown the critical "For Neville" email which indicated that more people knew about phone hacking at the News of the World than those convicted of it.

"There is a lot of supposition in their testimony," Murdoch said of Crone and Myler. "What they never did was clearly tell you that they showed me those emails. It was a very confusing and muddled session to be honest with you. It's for the committee to decide the quality of the evidence."

Murdoch argued that his own "consistency" in saying that he was not made aware of the full implication of the "For Neville" message indicated that he was telling the truth.

The email, which contained a transcript of voicemail messages, and was destined for Neville Thurlbeck, then chief reporter at the News of the World, is seen as a smoking gun which should have demonstrated that phone hacking was more widespread than previously admitted to.

Watson also asked him about alleged hacking of email by private investigators employed by News International.

News International confirmed earlier this week that it had paid for surveillance of Watson and other MPs, as well as lawyers acting for the victims of phone hacking, in the last 18 months. Murdoch said that he had only found out about the surveillance in the past few weeks and said it was "not acceptable."

One of the lawyers, Mark Lewis, who has already won a 2 million pound payment for the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, whose voicemail was hacked, was among the audience gathered to hear Murdoch.

He attributed New International's "aggressive" defense of reports about the scale of phone hacking that appeared in The Guardian to News International deciding that the Guardian wrote the stories purely for commercial gain. Many of the Guardian stories have since proven to be factually accurate.

The scandal has already claimed the scalps of Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton, News International's most recent chief executives.

Murdoch once looked like a shoo-in for heir apparent to his father at the top of News Corp, but his position now seems much shakier.

At the News Corp annual general meeting a couple of weeks ago, 67 percent of investors not controlled by the Murdoch family voted against his reappointment as deputy chief operating officer at the company.