Wednesday 17 July 2019

I'm not a tax exile – I pay significant sum here, O'Brien tells High Court

Denis O Brien, arriving at the Four Courts yesterday(Wed) before giving evidence during the opening day of his High Court Libel action for damages.Pic: Collins Courts
6/2/2013 Denis O Brien, arriving at the Four Courts yesterday(Wed) before giving evidence during the opening day of his High Court Libel action for damages.Pic: Collins Courts

Tim Healy

BUSINESSMAN Denis O'Brien has told the High Court he pays his taxes in Ireland and in all the countries with which he and his company, Digicel, are connected.

To say he was a tax exile because he lives abroad was not correct as he spent three-quarters of his time abroad because the Digicel Group, of which he is chairman, has interests from Fiji to the Caribbean, he said.

Mr O'Brien was giving evidence on his third day in the witness box in his defamation action over an 'Irish Daily Mail' article which he says accused him of being a hypocrite over his efforts to assist in the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

The article, written by Paul Drury and published on January 22, 2010, was headlined "Moriarty is about to report, no wonder Denis O'Brien is acting the saint in stricken Haiti".

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

The 'Mail', two of its editors and the author of the article deny the claims and say it was a piece of opinion honestly held and based on facts Mr Drury believed were true.

Under continuing cross-examination yesterday by Oisin Quinn SC, for the defendants, Mr O'Brien said that as a shareholder in Esat Digifone, which won the second mobile phone licence in 1995, he received €295m from the subsequent sale of the company to British Telecom in 2000.

In 2012, he agreed he received hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends from the Digicel Group but disagreed that because he was now "living in a flat in Malta" he did not pay any tax on that.

"I pay all my taxes in Ireland. I am a significant taxpayer in Ireland and that was one of the incorrect things (in the 'Mail' article) describing me as a tax exile," he said.

He disagreed that the main reason he moved to Malta was tax.


"I do not work in Ireland. I have some business here, but 95pc of my businesses are scattered round the world," he said.

Mr O'Brien agreed that as an owner of one of the biggest media companies in Ireland, Independent News and Media (INM), it was right that one can be free to express an opinion, but, he said, only if they do not libel someone.

Counsel put it to him that he would appreciate it was in the public interest that newspapers should get behind journalists who are prepared to say critical things about powerful people.

Mr O'Brien replied that while he was a shareholder in INM, he did not control it.

He did control the radio stations Newstalk and Today FM and they had a policy that, if something incorrect is broadcast about someone, they will ring that person immediately and say sorry and correct what has been said.

This happened on a number of occasions, said Mr O'Brien, and he himself had called the people involved, who would say "at least they have owned up".

He believed this was the best way of dealing with people rather than "fighting behind lawyers".

He disagreed that he could have dealt with the 'Mail' case through a right of reply he was offered or through the Press Council, which he said does not have "any significant role".

The court also heard about the efforts of Digicel personnel to help RTE reporter Charlie Bird – whose interviews in Haiti with Mr O'Brien were referred to in the 'Mail' article – getting into the country after the earthquake.

Mr O'Brien agreed the company had organised Mr Bird's flights in and out of the country because of difficulties caused by the disaster. It had also loaned him a satellite phone and helped get him a car.

Mr O'Brien said Digicel helped Mr Bird, who he described as "a little bit high maintenance", in the same way it had helped many others after the quake, including aid workers.

The case resumes on Tuesday.

Irish Independent

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