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British PM David Cameron via AFP

U.K.’s Cameron to testify in phone hacking probe June 14

Prime Minister David Cameron is to appear next week before an inquiry into press ethics sparked by the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers.

Cameron, whose government has been under fire over a series of revelations about its closeness to Murdoch’s media empire, will give evidence on June 14, according to a witness list published on the Leveson Inquiry website.

His testimony is scheduled to take up a full six-and-a-half-hour day of the televised inquiry at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, which is set to hear from several political heavyweights during the week.

Finance minister George Osborne is to testify on Monday, as will former prime minister Gordon Brown, according to the list published Friday.

Another ex-premier, John Major, will appear Tuesday along with opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband, while deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Scottish first minister Alex Salmond are scheduled for Wednesday.

The prime minister is likely to face questions about his friendship with former top Murdoch aide Rebekah Brooks, who has been arrested over the phone-hacking scandal and charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice.

He may also be asked about his former media chief Andy Coulson, an ex-editor of Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper, who has been charged with perjury in a case relating to a story in the paper.

Coulson was separately arrested last year on suspicion of phone hacking and corruption.

Critics cried foul over yet another link with Murdoch firms after aides to the culture minister, Jeremy Hunt, were shown to have leaked information to Murdoch’s News Corp., but the prime minister has stood by him.

An adviser to Hunt was forced to resign in April over the leaks, which took place during the time when Hunt was tasked with judging whether News Corp.’s bid for control of lucrative pay-TV firm BSkyB could go ahead.

Hunt was meant to be impartial in judging the bid, eventually abandoned last year as the phone-hacking scandal at Murdoch’s newspapers escalated.

Cameron has faced questions over his choice of Hunt to scrutinise the bid, given the culture minister had already expressed enthusiastic support for it.

But the prime minister has insisted Hunt acted “properly” throughout, and has refused to order an investigation into whether he broke the ministerial code of conduct.

Hunt was also embarrassed last month by the inquiry’s release of light-hearted text messages between him and a lobbyist for Murdoch’s News Corporation, in which he called lobbyist Fred Michel “mon ami” and “daddy”.

Cameron launched the Leveson Inquiry, led by judge Brian Leveson, in July 2011 to examine British press ethics in reaction to the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World, which led to the paper’s closure.

But in recent weeks the government itself has also appeared to be on trial, even as the Conservative-led coalition struggles to recover from several budget blunders and news that Britain is back in recession.

More than 40 people have been arrested over the phone-hacking scandal, which involved claims of illegal access to voicemails and subsequent attempts to hide evidence.

Police are also investigating accusations of inappropriate payments to public officials.

Written by | Agence France-Presse

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