E-MAILS showing culture secretary Jeremy Hunt’s close relationship with News Corp during a probe into the firm’s BSkyB takeover were released by the Leveson inquiry yesterday.
The 163-page trail of correspondence shows that Frederic Michel, News Corp’s director of public affairs in Europe, was in frequent contact with Hunt’s advisers from before the culture secretary took over the brief in December 2010 until July 2011, when News Corp withdrew its bid for the 61 per cent of BSkyB it did not already own.
The emails have been made public after Lord Leveson made a section 21 order compelling the media giant to hand over evidence.
Michel claims to have received tip-offs about forthcoming speeches and details of negotiations with regulators, which he forwarded to James Murdoch using the code name “Rubicon”.
He told Murdoch, who was then European and Asian chief executive of News Corp and chairman of BSkyB, that Hunt was sympathetic to News Corp’s bid, even suggesting ways for the firm to attack Ofcom for its concerns over the deal.
Michel also said it was “completely fine” for Murdoch to call Hunt on his mobile to discuss the investigation’s progress, though he was discouraged from meeting face-to-face.
Murdoch, the inquiry heard yesterday, responded: “You must be f***ing joking. I will text him and find a time.”
Michel, however, claimed in yesterday’s evidence bundle that he did not have direct conversations with Hunt while the bid plans were in progress, and that many of his references to “JH” in the emails actually referred to conversations with his advisers.
Hunt, who has said he behaved in a “quasi-judicial” way during the News Corp probe, warned yesterday that some of the events mentioned in the emails were fabrications.
1 Michel suggests Hunt was in phone contact with Murdoch before he formally took the BSkyB brief
To: James Rupert Murdoch
From: Michel, Frederic 15/11/10 11.32
Subject: Hunt meeting - urgent
Jeremy tried to call you. He has received very strong legal advice not to meet us today as the current process is treated as a judiciary one (not a policy one) and any meeting could be referred to and jeopardize the entire process...
My advice would be not to meet him today as it would be counterproductive for everyone, but you could have a chat with him on his mobile which is completely fine, and I will liaise with his team privately as well.
2 Michel says he has advance knowledge of Hunt’s statement to Parliament
From: Michel, Frederic
Subject: CONFIDENTIAL - JH STATEMENT
Managed to get some infos on the plans for tomorrow [ although absolutely illegal..>!]
…Lots of legal issues around the statement so [Hunt] has tried to get a version which helps us by qualifying the threats identified by Ofcom
3 Hunt appears to have given News Corp confidential info on Ofcom’s position
From: Michel, Frederic 09/02/2011 7:24
Subject: CONFIDENTIAL - JH - CONFIDENTIAL
as agreed on the call, I have managed to get JH quickly before he went in to see Swan Lake....and have further chat: he really feels this Ofcom letter is the ultimate weapon for them to bIock the deal. it’s the last throw of the dice for Ed [Richards of Ofcom] ...- he can’t instruct his officials to get back to Ofcom as he is not supposed to be aware that we have received the letter and its content....so we have to be very careful on this.
4 Michel emails Murdoch with details of Hunt’s decision to allow the deal, before it is made public
From: Michel, Frederic 3/3/2011 3.25am
Urgent: JH decision
Decision made by JH: he is minded to accept in lieu and will release around 7.30am to the market.
Expiring date for consultation will be Monday 21st March.
5 Hunt has been fighting News Corp’s corner in his department, Michel boasts to Murdoch
From: Michel, Frederic 2/6/2011 13.41
JH just called. He said that over the last few days he has been causing a lot of chaos and moaning from people at DCMS on our behalf. I should have an update later today.