O'Brien tells High Court he is not tax exile

Sat, Feb 9, 2013, 00:00

Businessman Denis O’Brien has told the High Court it is incorrect to say he is a tax exile. He pays his taxes in Ireland and in all countries with which he and his company Digicel are connected, he said.

To say he was a tax exile because he lived abroad was not correct, as he spent three-quarters of his time abroad because the Digicel Group, of which he is chairman, has interests from Fiji to the Caribbean, he said.

Yesterday was the third day of Mr O’Brien’s action alleging he was defamed in an Irish Daily Mail article. He claims the article accused him of being a hypocrite over his efforts to assist in the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

The article, published on January 22nd, 2010, and written by Paul Drury, was headlined: “Moriarty is about to report, no wonder Denis O’Brien is acting the saint in stricken Haiti.”

Self-interest

Mr O’Brien claims it meant his actions in Haiti were motivated by self-interest and designed to deflect attention from the Moriarty tribunal report, which contained findings adverse to Mr O’Brien that he strongly disputes.

The Mail, two of its editors and the author of the article deny the claims and plead it was a piece of opinion honestly held and based on facts Mr Drury believed were true.

Under continuing cross-examination yesterday by senior counsel Oisín Quinn, for the defendants, Mr O’Brien said, as a shareholder in Esat Digifone, which won the second mobile phone licence in 1995, he had received €295 million from the sale of the company to British Telecom in 2000.

Dividends

He agreed he received hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends from the Digicel Group on 2012, but disagreed with counsel’s suggestion that, because he was now living “in a flat in Malta”, he did not pay any tax on that.

“I pay all my taxes in Ireland. I am a significant taxpayer in Ireland and that was one of the incorrect things [in the Mail article] describing me as a tax exile.” He disagreed the main reason he moved to Malta was for tax. “I do not work in Ireland, I have some business here but 95 per cent of my businesses are scattered round the world.”

Pressed later by Mr Quinn, Mr O’Brien insisted a tax exile was someone who did not pay their taxes in Ireland. “I pay all my PAYE and I would be one of the largest taxpayers,” he said.

He disagreed he could have dealt with his case over the Mail article through a right of reply, which was offered, or through the Press Council.

The case resumes on Tuesday before Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne and a jury.