Friday 19 January 2018

Denis O'Brien denies Moriarty Tribunal 'was devastating to him'

Denis O'Brien at court today
Denis O'Brien at court today

BUSINESSMAN Denis O'Brien told the High Court today it was not true the final report of the Moriarty Tribunal was devastating for him.

He disputed and continues to dispute the tribunal findings, believed the report had ignored the evidence of a key witness, got certain things completely wrong and was in the end based on the opinion of Mr Justice Michael Moriarty, not on the basis of what would be required in a court.


Mr O'Brien, whose business interests include the international Digicel telecommunications group, is suing for defamation over an article in the Irish Daily Mail on January 22, 2010.


Today, on his second day in the witness box before a judge and jury, he also accused counsel for the Mail of re-running the tribunal and trying to "blacken me".


He claims the article, written by Paul Drury,  wrongly accused him of being a hypocrite when he was involved in the relief effort for victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2010.


The article was  headlined: "Moriarty is about to report, no wonder Denis O'Brien is acting the saint in stricken Haiti."


He claims the article meant what he was doing in Haiti was motivated by self interest and designed to deflect attention away from the Moriarty Tribunal report which contained findings adverse to Mr O'Brien but which he strongly disputes.


He says the article was nasty, spiteful and grubby and caused damage to his good name and reputation.


Mr O'Brien's action for damages is against Mail publishers Associated Newspapers as well as against its editor in chief Paul Dacre, its then editor of the Irish Daily Mail Paul Field and the author of the article, Mr Drury.


The defendants deny the claims and say the article was a piece of opinion honestly held based on facts the author believed were true.


Cross-examined today by Oisin Quinn SC, for the defendants, he said there were "60 findings" adverse to him in the tribunal report which "are all wrong".


He said he had given interviews to journalists before the Mail article about preliminary tribunal findings that were already in the public domain.


He said counsel for the Mail  was going through articles in newspapers at the time and "re-running the tribunal to try and blacken me."


Put to him that the tribunal found that Mr O'Brien's previous company, Esat Digifone, had given large amounts of money to former Minister Michael Lowry for helping the company get the country's second mobile phone licence, he said no witness ever told the tribunal he had given money to Mr Lowry and the tribunal did not say he had a corrupt relationship with him (Lowry).


He disagreed he had run a public relations campaign including a newspaper advert "slagging off" tribunal lawyers.  He had put an advert in a newspaper pointing out a tribunal barrister had claimed for a Toblerone chocolate from a hotel mini-bar when the lawyer was getting paid €3,500 a day at taxpayers expense.


Anyone who had been involved, as he had been, with a tribunal for ten or 11 years would get quite emotional and one would begin to question the credibility of people in it, though not of the chairman Mr Justice Moriarty, he said.


The tribunal had called him from a family holiday to answer questions, for just 15 minutes, over an anonymous letter which would have been thrown out in any court of law.  His wife's medical records had also been opened up by the tribunal.


Mr O'Brien accepted that in one newspaper interview he said he would fight the tribunal "street by street"  because he felt strongly that its findings were simply wrong.


It was "not true" that the final tribunal report was devastating for him.  It had, for instance, ignored the evidence of a key witness, Danish telecommunications expert,  Professor Michael Andersen. who was a lead consultant during the evaluation process for the second phone licence competition, he said.


Unlike a court, the findings of a tribunal were based on somebody's opinion, he added.


Also today, the former Minister for Social Affairs in Haiti, Josefa Gauthier, told the court Denis O'Brien never "acted" as though he had an interest in Haiti.  "He loves Haiti and did it with his heart," she said.


In 2006, Ms Gauthier was appointed director of the Digicel Foundation, which was set up by Mr O'Brien's company and is involved in building 150 schools in Haiti.  When Digicel came and invested in the country "Haitians were so happy, they thought it was Christmas,"

she said.


The case continues.

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