Wednesday 18 September 2019

BAI quizzed Eir over billionaire French investor's conviction

Regulator sought details on Xavier Niel in order to satisfy character test

A spokesman for Eir said: “The deal closed on time and was approved by all relevant authorities.”
A spokesman for Eir said: “The deal closed on time and was approved by all relevant authorities.”

Samantha McCaughren - Business Editor

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) sought additional information about French businessman Xavier Niel's conviction in 2005 before approving his acquisition of a majority stake in the telecoms company.

The telecoms entrepreneur acquired 65pc of Eir via two companies, NJJ and Iliad. The BAI had a role in approving the transaction because Eir operates television stations.

However, in its initial deliberations, the BAI "noted that Mr Niel did not meet one aspect of the character test set out in the Ownership and Control Policy, specifically the question relating to a conviction of an offence involving fraud or dishonesty".

The authority noted that Niel "was the subject of a conviction in 2005 by the French courts for concealing the misuse of corporate funds, paid a €250,000 fine and received a two-year suspended sentence".

According to minutes from the meeting in February the BAI "was not satisfied" that the issue of Niel's character had been sufficiently addressed in the first submission made on the deal.

A spokesman for the BAI said it had questions about the nature of the offence and how the conviction was treated under French law.

The initial submission advised that the conviction was historic and now 'spent' under French law under a clause known as automatic 'legal rehabilitation'.

"In the absence of further detail regarding the nature of the offence and a further explanation of the practical effect of legal rehabilitation and the specific time period that had to elapse for the same to take effect, the Authority was of the view that the issue of Mr Niel's character had not been sufficiently addressed in the submission. Therefore, the BAI requested further information."

According to the BAI, a subsequent submission said that under French law, once a conviction is spent, there is no obligation to provide details on it. "In circumstances where a question is put to a person purporting to seek information in relation to the person's previous convictions or the circumstances ancillary thereto and the person has a conviction which is regarded as a spent conviction, then, the question shall be regarded as not applying to the spent conviction," the BAI noted.

"As such, there was no requirement on Mr Niel to disclose the same and he had satisfied all of the criteria of the BAI character test."

A spokesman for Eir said: "The deal closed on time and was approved by all relevant authorities."

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