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High Court agrees to appointment of inspectors at INM

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Mr Justice Peter Kelly

Mr Justice Peter Kelly

Mr Justice Peter Kelly

The High Court has approved the appointment of inspectors to investigate concerns over conduct of affairs at Independent News & Media (INM).

Their inquiry into a major data breach and other serious matters at the country's biggest media group could begin as early as tomorrow.

In a judgment yesterday, the President of the High Court said the appointment was justified and in the public interest.

Unlawful

Mr Justice Peter Kelly also said circumstances surrounding two proposed business transactions were "suggestive of an unlawful purpose" directed to the benefit of INM's biggest shareholder, Denis O'Brien.

He postponed the making of orders until tomorrow to allow INM, publisher of the Herald, to consider his judgment, which comprehensively found in favour of an application by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE).

INM had objected to the app- ointment of inspectors, saying the measure was disproportionate and would have a damaging impact on the company and its employees. However, Mr Justice Kelly rejected these arguments.

"The appointment of inspectors is a serious matter and such a sledgehammer should not be used to crack a nut. What has been disclosed in the evidence before me is no nut," he said.

"The appointment of inspectors to ascertain the truth of what has allegedly gone on in the company is well justified and is not disproportionate."

The judge said the corporate watchdog had investigated concerns at INM, but "quite a few questions remain to be answered".

The ODCE began its inquiries after receiving a protected disclosure from then INM CEO Robert Pitt in November 2016.

Mr Pitt alleged he was put under pressure by then INM chairman Leslie Buckley to pay an inflated price for Newstalk, a radio station owned by Mr O'Brien. The deal was ultimately abandoned.

He also raised concerns about a proposal, later dropped, for the payment of a €1m "success fee" to a firm owned by Mr O'Brien in relation to the sale of INM's shares in media group APN.

"While the Newstalk acquisition and the APN transaction did not ultimately lead to any loss to the company, the circumstances surrounding them are certainly suggestive of an unlawful purpose directed to the benefit of Mr O'Brien directly or indirectly and to the detriment of the company," Mr Justice Kelly said.


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