O’Brien to seek to join as defendant in Persona case
Businessman to ask High Court to join him as a defendant in case taken against State by consortium challenging award of mobile phone licence to Esat
Denis O’Brien says he wants to defend the Persona case alongside the State, even though the consortium is not seeking to sue him, because the group is claiming the licence was awarded to his company as a result of deceit and dishonesty. Photograph: David Sleator
Denis O’Brien’s bid to be joined as a defendant to a multimillion-euro legal action against the State is likely to be adjourned when it comes before the High Court today.
The media and telecoms billionaire is due to ask the High Court today to join him as a defendant to a case taken against the State by Persona, the consortium that finished runner-up in the competition for the Republic’s second mobile phone licence in 1996.
His Esat Digifone consortium was awarded the licence, becoming the launchpad for him to become one of Ireland’s richest men. Michael Lowry was communications minister in the Rainbow coalition government at the time.
Even though Persona is not seeking to sue him, Mr O’Brien says that he wants to defend the case alongside the State because the group is claiming that the licence was awarded to his company as a result of deceit and dishonesty.
The State has also initiated proceedings in late 2012 to have Mr O’Brien and Mr Lowry made liable for damages that might arise from Persona’s case.
Mr O’Brien has said publicly that he would be happy to defend himself against those allegations and the State has no objection to his becoming a defendant to the case.
The hearing is due before the High Court this morning, but sources yesterday suggested it could be adjourned, or that a decision would be unlikely today. In 2011, the Moriarty tribunal report said Mr Lowry interfered in the licence process to the benefit of Esat and that Mr O’Brien sought to convey a material benefit on Mr Lowry. However, the report’s findings cannot be used as evidence in the legal action.
The Persona consortium – whose directors are businessmen Tony Boyle and Michael McGinley, the father of professional golfer Paul McGinley – was the most immediate loser in the competition, as it came second.
Businessman and sometime political activist Declan Ganley is also taking a case agains the State over the same licensing competition. His organisation, Comcast, finished last of six.
The State attempted to have both cases struck out on the basis of the amount of time that has elapsed since the awarding of the licence in 1996. However, the Supreme Court last year ruled that they should go ahead.
The court argued that allegations of corruption against a former government minister were too serious to be struck out on a technicality and should be addressed in full.
Mr O’Brien’s Esat Telecom owned half of Esat Digifone and was sold to BT for almost €3 billion 2000, netting Mr O’Brien more than €350 million in the process.
He now controls Communicorp, which has a number of interests in the Republic, including Newstalk radio station, Today FM and a minority stake in Independent News & Media, publisher of the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent and the Herald.
His Digicel mobile business is the one of the biggest networks in the Caribbean, Central America and Pacific islands. It has 13 million customers, according to its website.