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Saturday 21 September 2019

Inspectors ramp up probe at INM as quiz starts of key figures

Independent House, Talbot Street, Dublin
Independent House, Talbot Street, Dublin
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

High Court inspectors are understood to have begun interviewing key figures about a series of corporate controversies, including a major suspected data interrogation in 2014, at Independent News & Media (INM).

News of the ramping up of the inquiry comes just days after fresh data interrogation claims emerged.

IT consultant Derek Mizak is reported to have told the Data Protection Commissioner that then-INM chief executive Robert Pitt ordered a search of the computer hard drives and emails of up to six editors in June 2015. Mr Mizak is said to have claimed this was done as part of an investigation into the alleged leaking of an email to 'The Phoenix' magazine.

INM chief executive Michael Doorly is expected to address staff today about the latest allegations, which were reported by the 'Sunday Business Post'. The National Union of Journalists has also sought an urgent meeting with INM.

The fresh allegations are being examined by Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon and could also end up being looked into by court-appointed inspectors Sean Gillane SC and Richard Fleck.

It is alleged hard drives were removed at night, copied and then returned without the knowledge of staff members.

Although the latest claims are not among the matters the inspectors were appointed to investigate, they can return to the High Court should they wish to alter their terms of reference.

Mr Mizak declined to comment when contacted by the Irish Independent.

A representative of Mr Pitt said he would not be commenting while the inspection process is ongoing.

The inspectors were appointed to INM in September following an application by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE). After a preparatory period, it is understood the inspectors recently began interviewing key figures at the centre of various INM controversies.

Their remit includes probing the alleged interrogation of INM data, including that of journalists, staff and directors, by outside parties in 2014.

This is alleged to have been authorised by then INM chairman Leslie Buckley and paid for by a company owned by INM's largest shareholder, Denis O'Brien.

The inspectors are also investigating claims senior INM executives came under pressure from Mr Buckley in 2016 to pay an inflated price for Newstalk, a radio station owned by Mr O'Brien. The purchase was abandoned.

Concerns that "inside information" may have been passed by Mr Buckley to Mr O'Brien are also being investigated.

Mr Buckley denies any wrongdoing, while Mr O'Brien has yet to comment.

Protected disclosures by Mr Pitt and INM chief financial officer Ryan Preston prompted the ODCE inquiries.

Irish Independent

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