Elisabeth Murdoch with her father Rupert and his wife Wendi Deng
New York - The FBI is investigating whether a Russian billboard company once owned by media giant News Corp. bribed local officials to get sign placements approved, part of a growing probe of Rupert Murdoch’s company that stems from a scandal in the U.K.
The expanding investigation of News Corp. properties — besides the British tabloids accused of phone hacking and bribery of public officials — is typical of a U.S. probe of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The 1977 act allows the Justice Department to levy hefty fines on U.S.-based companies for ill-gotten profits that come from bribing foreign officials.
Two people familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press that the FBI will examine operations at former News Corp. subsidiary News Outdoor Russia. The two people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.
Investigators are trying to establish whether there is a pattern of bribery and corruption at News Corp. outlets abroad, they said.
A spokesman for News Corp. in New York declined to comment.
The Wall Street Journal, a News Corp. newspaper, earlier reported on the FBI probe.
Michael Koehler, a law professor at Butler University, and former legal adviser to businesses on the FCPA, said such a probe could take years and cover many News Corp. properties around the world.
In past cases where it has found wrongdoing, the Justice Department has imposed fines of up to double the amount of illicitly gained profits, he said.
“The breadth and scope of conduct is going to be one factor for the enforcement agencies in deciding how to resolve a case like this,” he said.
The investigation grew out of Britain’s phone hacking scandal, which revealed that journalists at News Corp.‘s News of the World tabloid illegally eavesdropped on politicians, celebrities, sports stars and even crime victims —all in the service of scoring scoops.
That led to separate investigations in Britain covering the bribery of public officials for scoops and computer hacking. More than 20 people have since been arrested in the bribery probe, including journalists from News Corp.‘s The Sun and now-shuttered News of the World.
None have been charged.
News Corp. sold its 79 percent stake in News Outdoor Russia in July along with a similar business in Romania for a combined $360 million. The sale does not prevent U.S. agencies from fining the company for profits reaped in the past through bribes.