O'Brien tells libel case he was not 'devastated' by Moriarty report

Denis O'Brien and Josefa Gauthier arriving at the Four Courts yesterday before they both gave evidence on the second day of his High Court libel action against the Irish Daily Mail. Photograph: Collins/Courts

Denis O'Brien and Josefa Gauthier arriving at the Four Courts yesterday before they both gave evidence on the second day of his High Court libel action against the Irish Daily Mail. Photograph: Collins/Courts

Fri, Feb 8, 2013, 00:00

Businessman Denis O’Brien has told the High Court it is “not true” to suggest the final report of the Moriarty tribunal was devastating for him.

He said he disputed and continues to dispute the tribunal findings. Its report ignored the evidence of a key witness, got certain things “completely wrong” and was in the end based on the opinion of tribunal chairman Mr Justice Michael Moriarty, not on what would be required in a court, he said.

Mr O’Brien, whose business interests include the international Digicel telecommunications group, is suing for defamation over an article in the Irish Daily Mail published on January 22nd, 2010. Written by Paul Drury, it was headlined: “Moriarty is about to report, no wonder Denis O’Brien is acting the saint in stricken Haiti”.

He claims the article wrongly accused him of being a hypocrite when he was involved in the relief effort for victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

He claims it meant what he was doing in Haiti was motivated by self-interest and designed to deflect attention from the Moriarty tribunal report.

The article was nasty, spiteful and grubby and caused damage to his good name and reputation, he claims.

The action is against Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Irish Daily Mail; editor in chief Paul Dacre; then editor of the Irish Daily Mail Paul Field and Mr Drury. They plead that the article was an opinion, honestly held, based on facts the author believed were true.

On the second day of the case yesterday before Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne and a jury, the former minister for social affairs in Haiti, Josefa Gauthier, said Mr O’Brien never “acted” an interest in Haiti. “He loves Haiti and did it with his heart.”

150 schools

Ms Gauthier was in 2006 appointed director of the Digicel Foundation, set up by Mr O’Brien’s company and involved in building 150 schools in Haiti. When Digicel came in and invested, “Haitians were so happy, they thought it was Christmas”, she said.

Earlier, cross-examined by Oisín Quinn SC, defending, Mr O’Brien accused him, in going through various newspaper articles, of “rerunning” the Moriarty tribunal and trying to “blacken me”. There were “60 findings” adverse to him in the tribunal report which were “all wrong”, he said.

He had given interviews to journalists before the Mail article about preliminary tribunal findings already in the public domain.

When it was put to him that the tribunal found his previous company, Esat Digifone, had given large amounts of money to former minister Michael Lowry for helping the company to get the State’s second mobile phone licence, he said no witness had ever told the tribunal he had given money to Mr Lowry and the tribunal did not say he had had a corrupt relationship with Mr Lowry.

He disagreed he ran a public relations campaign including a newspaper advert “slagging off” tribunal lawyers. He put an advert in a newspaper pointing out that a tribunal barrister had claimed for a chocolate bar from a hotel mini-bar when that lawyer was being paid €3,500 a day at taxpayers’ expense.

Anyone who had been involved, as he had been, with a tribunal for 10 or 11 years, would get quite emotional and would begin to question the credibility of people in it – although not of the chairman, Mr Justice Moriarty, he said.

Mr O’Brien accepted that he had said in one newspaper interview that he would fight the tribunal “street by street”. He felt strongly its findings were simply wrong, he said.

It was “not true” the final tribunal report was devastating for him, he said. It had, for instance, ignored evidence of a key witness, Danish telecommunications expert Prof Michael Andersen, a lead consultant in the evaluation process for the second phone licence competition.

Law Library

Earlier, he denied that at about the time of the Mail article, it was expected that the tribunal report was about to be published. A simple phone call to the Law Library would have shown that was not the case and it was not published for another 14 months, he said.

He insisted it was a news piece, containing 11 or 12 facts that were “wrong”.

The case continues.