Chris Helgren / Reuters
An advertisement for The Sun newspaper is seen on a billboard outside News International's Wapping headquarters in London, Jan. 28
LONDON -- British police on Saturday arrested five senior members of staff at News Corporation's flagship newspaper The Sun, the company said, as part of investigations into alleged payments to police by journalists for information.
The payments investigation, dubbed Operation Elveden, is part of a wider probe into illegal news gathering practices that have rocked Britain's political, media and police establishments and last year prompted the closure of News Corp.'s Sunday paper, The News of the World.
"I'm as shocked as anyone by today's arrests but am determined to lead The Sun through these difficult times. I have a brilliant staff and we have a duty to serve our readers and will continue to do that. Our focus is on putting out Monday's newspaper," Sun editor Dominic Mohan said in a statement.
A former News of the World executive, who requested anonymity, said The Sun's current deputy editor Geoff Webster, picture editor John Edwards and chief reporter John Kay were among those arrested Saturday. Sky News and other British media reported that chief foreign correspondent Nick Parker and reporter John Sturgis were also being questioned. News Corp. would not publicly confirm the identities of those detained.
A 39-year-old female employee at Britain's defense ministry, a 36-year-old male member of the armed forces and a 39-year-old serving police officer with Surrey Police were also arrested in an early morning raid, police said.
The Ministry of Defense declined to comment.
The latest arrests at The Sun, Britain's best-selling daily newspaper, come after the arrest of four current and former staff at the newspaper last month, raising questions about the publication's viability.
Saturday's arrests were the result of information from News Corp.'s Management and Standards Committee (MSC), a fact-finding group the firm set up in a bid to rescue its ravaged reputation.
"The MSC provided the information to the Elveden investigation which led to today's arrests ... News Corporation remains committed to ensuring that unacceptable news gathering practices by individuals in the past will not be repeated," New Corp said in a statement.
The MSC's work could lead to further damaging revelations about journalists bribing police that could prompt calls for the Sun's demise.
The once hugely popular News of the World was closed last year by Murdoch after accusations that its reporters hacked the mobile phone messages of celebrities and victims of crime caused a public outcry.
Murdoch to quit newspapers?
"This is huge. It will raise some very serious questions about the viability of The Sun .... You then start to ask questions about the extent to which News Corp and Murdoch in particular, may want to start getting out of newspapers all together," said Steven Barnett, professor of communications at Westminster University, London.
Barnett said Saturday's arrests were particularly damaging because they included current staff and were not related to historical actions by former employees, and also because they come after arrests and office raids at The Sun last month.
Murdoch also owns The Times broadsheet newspaper, which this year admitted that one of its former reporters had hacked a phone, and the Wall Street Journal U.S. financial newspaper.
Meanwhile, U.S. authorities are stepping up investigations, including an FBI criminal inquiry, into possible violations by Murdoch media employees of a U.S. law banning corrupt payments to foreign officials such as police, law enforcement and corporate sources.
Police said 40 people had been arrested in connection with three police investigations into illegal news gathering practices, but that no one had yet been charged.
Allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World prompted Britain's parliament to summon Murdoch and his executive son James to explain themselves last year.
Many inside and outside parliament have long accused Murdoch of wielding too much political influence through his newspapers.
The scandal's most high profile scalps so far include two top police officials, who resigned over the handling of initial investigations into media malpractice; Rebekah Brooks, a former chief executive of Murdoch's London papers; and Andy Coulson, a former Murdoch editor who became Prime Minister David Cameron's media adviser.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.
More from msnbc.com and NBC News:
- Ambassador: Satellite images prove Syria beyond violence
- What gives? Another American in Libya no-fly limbo
- Report: Saudi Arabia to buy nukes if Iran tests A-bomb
- Zen monk fights radiation in Japan