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The scandal has come uncomfortably close to Prime Minister David Cameron, who, like predecessors Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, courted the powerful Murdoch empire whose endorsement is considered capable of swinging elections.

Cameron is friendly with Brooks, and even appointed a former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, to be his communications chief. Coulson resigned from the paper after its former royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for hacking into voice mail messages in 2007, but has always insisted he knew nothing of the eavesdropping.

In January, as the hacking allegations widened, Coulson resigned from 10 Downing St.

The Guardian newspaper and the BBC’s “Newsnight” program reported late Thursday that Coulson had been told by police that he would be arrested Friday and questioned about hacking. Several News of the World journalists have already been arrested and quizzed over the allegations, but Coulson would be by far the most senior. No one has been charged since the two convictions in 2007.

Police declined to comment on the reports.

This week Cameron spoke out against the culture of hacking at the paper, calling for public inquiries into the News of the World’s behavior as well as into the failure of the original London police inquiry to uncover the extent of the hacking.

“We are no longer talking here about politicians and celebrities, we are talking about murder victims, potentially terrorist victims, having their phones hacked into,” Cameron said during an emergency debate Wednesday in the House of Commons.

The Metropolitan Police force is also facing an inquiry by the police watchdog over claims its officers took money from the News of the World in exchange for information. The original police investigation into phone hacking, shelved after Goodman and Mulcaire were jailed, was reopened earlier this year.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson said he was “determined” to see any officers who received payoffs from journalists facing criminal conviction.

Brian Paddick, a former senior police commander, told the BBC one journalist paid $50,000 (30,000 pounds) for police information and others paid cash in envelopes handed over at a drive-thru fast food restaurant near the News International headquarters.

Some payoffs were “jeopardizing serious criminal investigations by giving out confidential information that could be useful to criminals,” Paddick said.

Rupert Murdoch _ a global media titan with newspaper, television, movie and book publishing interests in the United States, Britain, Australia and elsewhere _ is seeking to buy full control of broadcaster BSkyB, in which he owns a 39 percent share.

His British arm of News Corp. was within reach of gaining the British government’s approval to make a bid for BSkyB when the scandal exploded, emboldening rivals and critics, who called on the government to block the takeover.

As the week went on, BSkyB’s share price sank, reflecting market anxieties there might be no takeover bid. On Thursday they were down 1.8 percent on the London Stock Exchange.

Shares in News Corp., however, were up 1.6 percent after Thursday’s announcement, at $18.22 on the Nasdaq index in New York, although they have fallen from above $18.50 since Tuesday.

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