Sun reporter, press officer charged in British bribery probe

LONDON (AFP) - A journalist with Rupert Murdoch's top-selling British tabloid The Sun and a government press officer have been charged over the leaking of economic policies in exchange for money, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

The Sun's Whitehall editor Clodagh Hartley is accused of paying £17,475 (S$33,095) over three years to Jonathan Hall, a press officer for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs tax office, and his partner Marta Bukarewicz, in exchange for information.

Hartley, 38, Hall, 51, and Bukarewicz, 44, who is not a public official, have all been charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

They are the latest in a string of arrests and charges from Operation Elveden, Scotland Yard's investigation into allegations of inappropriate payments to police and public officials launched following the phone-hacking scandal at Mr Murdoch's now-defunct News of the World.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) alleges that between March 2008 and July 2011, The Sun paid Hall, mostly via his girlfriend, for information about the budgetary policies of Prime Minister David Cameron's government.

"The information provided included details about government plans, including upcoming but as yet unannounced spending and policy decisions relating to the 2010 Budget and the coalition government's deficit reduction plans," a CPS statement said.

"Information also related specifically to policy and decision-making within HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs), including that relating to job losses and casework."

The trio had previously been arrested and were charged when they returned to answer bail. They were all subsequently released on bail again and will appear at Westminster Magistrates Court on May 29.

The Sun's weekly sister newspaper, The News of the World, was closed down in July 2011 followed revelations that it had illegally accessed the mobile phone voicemails of hundreds of high-profile figures, including a missing teenager who was later found murdered.