Wednesday 28 September 2016

Denis O'Brien to invest up to $450m on network of undersea telecom cables in Caribbean

Mr O'Brien on Apple tax controversy: Brussels is 'out of control'

Published 20/09/2016 | 18:23

Businessman Denis O'Brien
Businessman Denis O'Brien

BUSINESSMAN Denis O’Brien has revealed plans to personally invest as much as $450m on a network of undersea telecoms cables linking dozens of countries in the Caribbean.

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The Digicel founder outlined the plan, which could connect up to 40 countries, in a wide ranging interview with Bloomberg Television’s Vonnie Quinn.

"One project that we are doing off balance sheet, which I am going to do personally, we are going to lay submarine cable  to about 30 countries. That project is about $350m, but we’re thinking about upscaling it to about $450 to go up to about 40 countries in the Caribbean region, putting high capacity, modern, submarine networks into those countries," he said.

Mr O’Brien’s main Digicel business operates telecoms and communications businesses in 31 markets across the Caribbean, Central America and Asia Pacific. However, the submarine cable investment is being done in a personal capacity, separate to the group.

"That would be a personal project," he said.

In addition Digicel itself has invested $1bn over the past 18 months, including rolling out fibre to the home across markets where the group operates, he said. 

In a wide-ranging interview, the founder of Digicel said an imminent IPO is not on the cards for the firm - and also criticised Europe for 'picking on' Apple over its tax affairs.

The financial markets are "too unstable" for flotation, Mr O'Brien told Bloomberg Television.

Last October Digicel shelved plans for a stock market listing, citing market conditions. Today he said that the company may revisit the plan if the market improves.

In the meantime, he said Digicel business "is growing", and will go into "positive territory" in next 18 months. The group is looking at potential acquisitions, and says Cuba could be an “interesting” market if the country opens up.

In relation to the Apple tax ruling, Mr O'Brien said the US company should not be punished for its tax arrangements in Ireland. The European Competition Commissioner Margarethe Vestager has ordered the Irish Government to collect €13bn in back taxes from Apple, that the Government says is not owed.

"Apple played by the rules," Denis O'Brien  told Bloomberg Television.

"Brussels is out of control in terms of the federalism agenda," he said.

"Vestager just picked on them because they are one of the biggest brands and most valuable companies in the world and said ‘we’re going to try something here,” O’Brien said. “I don’t believe it’s going to succeed.”

Mr O’Brien, who is a shareholder in INM which owns Independent.ie, said Europe was not a great place to invest

"Europe is in a pretty dangerous place at the moment. I think Brussels is out of control in terms of the federalism agenda.  I think smaller countries are also concerned about giving up a lot of the decision making to Brussels.

And also I think the handling, and I have a lot of sympathy for immigrants coming to Europe, the handling of the immigration crisis was a fiasco,” he said. 

"Europe is not a great place to invest right now. I’d single Ireland out. Ireland is the shining light right now. We’ve made a fantastic recovery from the banking crisis that we’ve had.

"And despite Brexit, it really puts attention back on Ireland as a great place to invest because you’ve got a highly trained workforce and proper governance and rules there.”

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