By Michael Holden
LONDON, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Fraud squad detectives are examining whether large severance pay-offs to senior BBC managers which exceeded the amounts they were entitled to constituted criminal offences, London police said on Friday.
Last month, the National Audit Office (NAO), the government spending watchdog, concluded that the publicly funded broadcaster had breached its already generous policies on redundancy payments without good reason.
The NAO said 60 million pounds ($93 million) was paid to senior managers between 2005 and March this year, and found in 14 of the 60 cases it reviewed, the recipients had been given more cash than they were entitled, costing taxpayers at least one million pounds.
Some of the excessive payouts highlighted in the report were approved by former BBC Director General Mark Thompson, it said. Thompson is now chief executive of the New York Times.
Lawmakers wrote to the police asking them to investigate the payments and whether BBC executives might have committed an offence of misconduct in a public office. Fraud squad officers are now considering whether to launch a formal inquiry.
"We're assessing the information to see if there is anything contained within it that would need to be moved on to a criminal investigation," said a spokesman for London's Metropolitan Police.
The BBC Trust, the broadcaster's governing body, said the NAO's findings were deeply worrying and blamed weak governance from the broadcaster's executives for the failure to follow agreed severance procedures.
However, the broadcaster said no crimes had been committed.
"The National Audit Office report found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing in relation to these severance payments," a spokeswoman said.
Thompson, who is due to appear before parliament's powerful Public Accounts Committee later this year, has rejected suggestions he had agreed large pay-offs without getting the BBC Trust's approval and making it aware of contentious issues.
In one case detailed by the NAO, the decision to pay 376,000 pounds to one individual was described as "seriously deficient", and the recipient later returned the money saying they did not want to benefit from a payment which was not appropriately authorised.
The NAO said the deal was agreed by the BBC's human resources director together with Thompson, a suggestion he has denied. "If I had been consulted, I would not have approved it," Thompson said in a statement last month.