The women in his life
Murdoch and his minions
could be excused a little nervousness, as they may
well face United States Department
of Justice queries and investigation
by the Securities Exchange Commission
A LITTLE MURDOCH perspective. In another life your ageing correspondent ran Fairfax, an Australian publishing house in which Rupert Murdoch – always in the public eye but never in quite the same way in which he now finds himself – was a shareholder. It must be said he was a passive 5% shareholder (the legal limit allowed in terms of Aussie cross-media ownership regulations).
Murdoch, who built the world’s largest and most powerful media conglomerate on a small newspaper in Adelaide he inherited from his late father, Sir Keith Murdoch, now faces – as the world knows – moral and financial challenges to his empire. Both current and former senior executives of Murdoch-owned London Sunday News of the World have been arrested over charges of bribing policemen, hacking into phones and other shady activities. Murdoch and his minions could be excused a little nervousness, as they may well face United States Department of Justice queries in terms of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and investigation by the Securities Exchange Commission.
This is a piece of law aimed at anyone or any enterprise that does business in or raises money in or has links in the US to prosecution for bribing foreign officials. It’s this legislation that might one day be aimed at companies active in South Africa which, as in the nefarious Hitachi donation of shares to the ANC, seek gain by paying off local politicians.
Murdoch is an operator with nerves of steel. He’s faced bankruptcy more than once. At one stage, while struggling to restructure an enormous debt load, he was threatened by a small Pennsylvania bank that had taken up US$10m in a multi-billion debt syndication and refused to join the large institutions in allowing Murdoch to roll his debt over, enabling his businesses to survive.
A savvy lady banker from New York eventually persuaded the little Pennsylvania outfit to drop its opposition, thus rescuing News Corp – yet another female influence in Murdoch’s career. His daughter Elisabeth is a power in the group, as is his ravishing Chinese wife, Wendi Deng – almost 40 years junior to the 80-year-old media mogul – while his surrogate daughter, the flame-haired Rebekah Brooks, was editor of The Sun and the News of the World and then appointed by Murdoch as head of his News International in Britain before she fell to the tabloid hacking scandal.
And then there’s his 103-year-old mother – Dame Elisabeth Murdoch – who remains feisty and influential and has described the delectable Wendi, by whom Murdoch has two young daughters, as a “designing woman”.
All hell will surely break loose when Murdoch, worth $7bn, kicks the bucket – although given his mother’s longevity that might be later than sooner. His sons – Lachlan and James, by the delightful and lovely Anna Murdoch, his second wife – will surely be in the mix once Rupert is done and dusted. However, they may well face a determined tussle for influence with Wendi. Daughter Elisabeth, from his first marriage, is also a contender.
Yes, how the mighty can fall. In Palm Beach in Florida last year I dined with Lord Black of Crossharbour, the former chairman of the Hollinger group, which had control – through The Telegraph (London) – of Fairfax and which Black appointed me to manage. Black was out on bail and now faces several more months behind bars following a partially successful appeal. Whatever the merits or otherwise might be of his situation, it’s been put to me by US lawyers he could almost surely have avoided jail by entering into a plea bargain and refunding monies in dispute.
Though perhaps my friend Conrad Black could do with a little less hubris, he’s also the victim of a vindictive US justice system that sees fit to send back to jail a man who, while incarcerated, delivered history lectures to fellow inmates, building a reputation as a role model who lifted prison morale.