LONDON, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Rupert Murdoch, amid new claims his British tabloid The Sun paid large sums of money to "a network of corrupted officials," said the payments are "of the past."
"The practices [London Metropolitan Police Service Deputy Assistant Commissioner] Sue Akers described at the Leveson Inquiry are ones of the past, and no longer exist at the Sun," Murdoch said.
The statement was his first formal comment on claims made to British appeals court Judge Brian Leveson in a public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press that began in September following a phone hacking scandal involving Murdoch's now-defunct weekly News of the World tabloid.
"As I've made very clear, we have vowed to do everything we can to get to the bottom of prior wrongdoings in order to set us on the right path for the future. That process is well under way," Murdoch's statement said, a day after he published a new Sunday edition of The Sun to replace The News of the World, which he shut down last July in the wake of the scandal.
In testimony Monday, Akers, who is leading a criminal investigation into Murdoch's newspapers, said The Sun had illegally paid unidentified officials hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for news tips and "salacious gossip."
She said the payments had been authorized "at a very senior level within the newspaper."
"There appears to have been a culture at The Sun of illegal payments, and systems have been created to facilitate such payments whilst hiding the identity of the officials receiving the money," she told Leveson.
The payments involved "frequent and sometimes significant sums of money" to public officials, she said.
E-mails indicate one Sun journalist received more than $235,000 in cash over several years "to pay his sources, a number of whom were public officials," Akers said.
The journalists clearly knew the payoffs were illegal, judging from e-mail references to staff members' "risking losing their pension or job" and to the need to keep the payments secret or to make them to friends or relatives of the officials, she said.
"The evidence suggests that payments were being made across all areas of public life," she said.
"The current assessment of the evidence is that it reveals a network of corrupted officials," she said.
A Leveson Inquiry lawyer separately said former Murdoch executive Rebekah Brooks, when editor of The Sun, was informed by a police mole in 2006 that detectives had evidence cellphones of dozens of celebrities, politicians and sports figures had been illegally hacked by an investigator working for The News of the World.
This contrasts with public statements of ignorance made by Brooks and other former editors of the Sunday tabloid. And when they later did admit knowledge of the hacking, they maintained until late 2010 the hacking had been limited to a single "rogue reporter," the newspaper's royal correspondent, Clive Goodman.