The women in his life

Finweek English Edition - - FRONT PAGE - STEPHEN MUL­HOL­LAND

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.

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