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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Ex-INM director gets boot over interference

Buckley allegedly tried to interfere with reporting on tribunal

Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Dethroned Independent News & Media director Leslie Buckley has been accused of trying to "interfere" in the editorial coverage of the Moriarty Tribunal by the newspaper group.

The chief executive of INM, Gavin O'Reilly, revealed yesterday that the respected Irish Independent investigative journalist and radio host Sam Smyth was the target of Mr Buckley's campaign.

Mr Buckley, who is a long-time business associate of telecoms billionaire Denis O'Brien, was voted off the board of the newspaper group, which includes the Sunday Independent amongst its publications, at last Friday's contentious Annual General Meeting in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

"Unfortunately, Leslie Buckley attempted to influence and interfere with editorial coverage in our titles, particularly in relation to Sam Smyth's position as one of the main correspondents on the Moriarty Tribunal," said Mr O'Reilly yesterday.

"Obviously Denis O'Brien has now taken legal action against Mr Smyth and the company and so I am constrained in what I can say about the matter."

Mr Smyth originally broke the story that revealed that Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry had the cost of a substantial extension to his Tipperary home invoiced through Dunnes Stores to avoid tax.

As a result, the Moriarty Tribunal was established in 1997 to investigate the financial affairs of the late Taoiseach Charles Haughey and Mr Lowry, who was Minister for Communications when the country's second mobile-phone licence was awarded to the Esat Digifone consortium, led by Mr O'Brien.

After a 14-year investigation the tribunal found that Michael Lowry, as Minister for Communications, had imparted substantive information to Mr O'Brien, which was "of significant assistance to him in securing the licence" and that the former minister had helped to "deliver" the licence to the consortium which involved Mr O'Brien, Telenor the Norwegian phone company and financier Dermot Desmond.

Mr O'Brien and Mr Buckley were both directors of the Esat Digifone consortium. Mr O'Brien is now the largest shareholder in the Independent News & Media and Mr Buckley represented him on the board of the newspaper group, along with other close associates of Mr O'Brien, Lucy Gaffney and Paul Connolly.

After he was voted off the board yesterday, Mr Buckley accused Mr O'Reilly of "actively canvassing company shareholders" to vote against him, something which Mr O'Reilly denied after the company held its AGM in Dublin on Friday.

"Mr Buckley should be careful with his language," he said, adding that his comments did a "disservice to himself and the company".

It is believed that correspondence between the two sides refers to phone calls and other communications to Mr O'Reilly, chief executive of INM, from Mr Buckley when he was a member of the board, questioning reporter Mr Smyth's impartiality in his coverage of the Moriarty Tribunal's investigation of Mr Lowry and his links to Mr O'Brien.

Last Sunday the Sunday Times newspaper revealed that Mr O'Brien had launched a fresh High Court defamation action against the award-winning journalist Mr Smyth and Independent News & Media claiming that he had been libelled in an article published on May 27 last year.

Mr Lowry also issued legal proceedings against Mr Smyth over comments he made about the former minister on TV3, but his application for a summary judgement in the Circuit Court was dismissed last January.

The independent TD for Tipperary North said that he would take his case to the High Court.

Sunday Independent

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