Questions and answers on Denis O'Brien and his tax
Further issues concerning Denis O’Brien and his dealing with the former minister for communications, Michael Lowry, arise from revelations in the Sunday Independent about a conversation between Lowry and a person involved with O’Brien in a controversial property deal in the UK.
These revelations give a further edge to the significance of the editorial charter that the board of Independent News and Media wishes to impose on the journalists at Independent Newspapers.
Central to this proposed charter is a demand that journalists get the written approval of the managing editor before writing any “sustained or repeated adversarial material concerning individuals or organisations”. The most prominent person who could be said to have been subjected to “sustained or repeated adversarial material” concerning him/her is O’Brien, the largest shareholder in INM and, arguably, now controlling one.
If that edict were to be formalised within INM, then it is likely that as far as the largest commercial media corporation in the country, INM, is concerned the issues arising from the latest revelations are unlikely to be pursued. But not just that issue, and hardly not just in INM for why would the same requirement not apply also to the radio stations controlled by O’Brien, including Newstalk?
On day four of his libel action against the Irish Daily Mail there was the following exchange between O’Brien and counsel for that newspaper, Oisín Quinn:
DO’B: I’m not a tax exile, Mr Quinn. And what was described is actually libellous. A tax exile is someone who doesn’t pay their taxes. As I described to you this morning, I paid all my taxes in Ireland, all PAYE. And I would be one of the larger taxpayers in the country at this time.
OQ: A tax exile, Mr O’Brien, is someone who is moved offshore to reduce their tax liability. You live in a flat in Malta, away from your family, to reduce your tax. That is a tax exile.
DO’B: No, a tax exile, Mr Quinn, technically is somebody who went away not to pay income tax in Ireland. I pay income tax in Ireland. Thank you.
The issue of O’Brien’s alleged “tax exile” status has to do primarily with his avoidance of capital gains tax on the gain he made on the sale of Esat to BT in 2000.
In a biography of O’Brien, A Mobile Fortune: The Life and Times of Denis O’Brien, by Siobhán Creaton, published in 2010, the issue of his tax status is addressed. She wrote about an appearance he made on the Late Late Show on RTÉ with Pat Kenny shortly after the sale of his company, Esat, to BT in January 2000. Kenny remarked that the Revenue Commissioners would be rubbing their hands in anticipation of a big cheque from O’Brien on the €317 million fortune he had made personally on the sale of Esat (this would have been a 20 per cent tax on his capital gain, which would have been €63 million).