Thursday 19 September 2019

O'Brien lawyer opposes amendment to phone licence case

Businessman Denis O’Brien. Photo: Bloomberg
Businessman Denis O’Brien. Photo: Bloomberg

Tim Healy

A consortium suing over the awarding of the country's second mobile phone licence should not be allowed amend its original statement of claim because it would be a "recipe for chaos", a lawyer for businessman Denis O'Brien has argued in the High Court.

Mr O'Brien and the State are defendants in the Persona/Sigma actions over the awarding of the licence to Mr O'Brien's then Esat Digifone consortium in the 1990s. They deny claims made by Persona Digital Telephony and Sigma Wireless Networks, who initiated their case in 2001. It was originally claimed, among other things, that the licence competition was conducted unfairly and that Esat won because of bribery of the then communications minister Michael Lowry. The case was originally against the State with Mr O'Brien and Mr Lowry as notice parties. In 2014, the High Court ruled, on the application of Mr O'Brien, that he was entitled to be added as a defendant in order to properly defend the implicit claims of bribery by his company. In the meantime, in 2011, the Moriarty Tribunal published its report and made findings adverse to Mr Lowry and Mr O'Brien.

Persona/Sigma applied earlier this year to amend the statement of claim against the State and Mr O'Brien. Against the State, damages were claimed for fraud and causing damage by unlawful means.

Against Mr O'Brien, there was a new claim of unjust enrichment and the seeking of account of profits.

John O'Donnell SC, for the State, said these were new allegations, which by the time they go to trial, will relate to a matter that is 25 years old. It will require civil servants to recall conversations that occurred that long ago, he said. Paul O'Higgins SC, for Mr O'Brien, said amending the claims to those of unjust enrichment and account of profits completely changes the case and would be a radical move in circumstances where it is four years since the plaintiffs were asked to explicitly state their case against Mr O'Brien, he said. It was completely different to the basis of the claim and to allow amendments at this stage would be "a recipe for chaos", he said. Ms Justice Teresa Pilkington reserved her decision.

Irish Independent

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