A PRINTING company is suing over the loss of a multi-year agreement to publish several newspapers following what it alleges was a "wilful" and "pre-packaged" restructuring of the Thomas Crosbie Holdings (TCH) media group.
One of the "principal objectives" of the restructuring of the TCH group was to enable TCH and TCP (Thomas Crosbie Printers Ltd) evade their existing contractual obligations to Webprint Concepts Ltd, its managing director claims.
In an affidavit to the Commercial Court, Webprint MD Donagh O'Doherty said the net value of the 15-year printing agreement to Webprint was some €22.2m or around 70 per cent of its income.
Out of 46 staff at its Mahon Point, Cork, premises, 41 were on a two day week with some facing possible redundancy as a result of this "wilful scheme" to interfere with its contractual relations.
Following the restructuring, it seems the same newspapers are published under the same titles by the same employees under direction of the same CEO and by a company owned and controlled by the same individuals as TCH and funded by the same bank as TCH, he said.
The only differences resulting from restructuring were the Irish Times is now publishing the titles, there are unpaid debts of some suppliers of newsprint and, reportedly, there are pension obligations of TCH as he had been told of a €22m deficit, he said.
TCH was placed into receivership this month by its largest lender, AIB, and Kieran Wallace of KPMG was appointed receiver.
On the same day, TCH was acquired by Landmark Media Investments, owned by Thomas and Ted Crosbie. As part of the restructuring, an examiner was appointed to Post Publications Ltd, publishers of the Sunday Business Post.
The Irish Times is to print Landmark’s titles, including Irish Examiner and Evening Echo, and it also agreed a deal with Post Publications Ltd to print the Sunday Business Post. AIB has also provided financial support to Landmark.
Ulster Bank has also appointed a receiver over Webprint's Mahon Point premises, on which a loan to TCP to build the premises was secured.
Today, Declan McGrath SC, for Webprint, said the loss of the printing agreement, which commenced in January 2006 and had eight years to run, arose from "a premeditated plan in gestation for some time" which had had a profound impact on his client.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly said the claim appeared to be there was "an actionable conspiracy" involving interference with contractual arrangements.
He agreed to fast-track the action in the Commercial Court and fixed a provisional trial date for October 8 with any applications to have Webprint provide security for costs of the proceedings to be brought by end of April.
The case is against Thomas Crosbie Printers Ltd (TCP); Thomas Crosbie Holdings Ltd (TCH); Bontbury Ltd (trading as Landmark Media Investments); AIB; TCH receiver Kieran Wallace; Irish Times Ltd; TCH director Thomas Patrick Crosbie and TCH Chairman Alan Crosbie.
Webprint wants specific performance by TCP of the printing agreement, plus orders restraining TCP breaching that agreement or the other defendants causing, inducing or procuring breach of agreement by TCP.
Alternatively, it claims Landmark is bound by the printing agreement.
It claims TCH is liable for loss and damage suffered by Webprint as a result of TCP's alleged breach of agreement. It is also claiming damages for breach of contract against TCP, TCH and Landmark, plus damages for intentional inference with contractual relations against all the other defendants except TCP.
It claims Mr Wallace acted negligently and in breach of the Companies Act in transferring TCH's print titles to Landmark without offering them for sale on the open market.
It claims loss of anticipated profits under the printing agreement; some €2.83m arrears due by TCP and exceptional employee costs likely to be incurred.
All of the defendants consented to the case being fast-tracked but several indicated they may seek orders requiring Webprint to provide security for costs. Mr McGrath said such applications will be resisted as this was a "clear" case any financial difficulties of his client were caused by wrongdoing of the defendants.
Cian Ferriter SC, for the Crosbie side, said Webprint's contract was with TCP which was subject of a winding up application for hearing next month. The "unpalatable reality" was TCP was "hopelessly insolvent" and incapable of performing the contract.