Stop ‘B&B’ for firms availing of Irish tax laws, Denis O’Brien urges

Maltese tax resident businessman says State must ‘change ways’ on taxing multinationals

Businessman Denis O’Brien said investing in INM was “the wrong decision”.

Businessman Denis O’Brien said investing in INM was “the wrong decision”.

 

Businessman Denis O’Brien, who is personally tax resident in Malta, believes Irish policymakers should prevent the State being used as a “bed and breakfast” location by corporate tax avoiders who “take advantage” of the Irish system.

Mr O’Brien has also confirmed that his worst business decision was investing in Independent News and Media (INM), the publishing group where he is believed to have lost close to €500 million on his stake, which he sold last year.

An interview with the businessman was published in recent days by the College Tribune, a student-run publication at University College Dublin, which Mr O’Brien attended in his youth.

He was asked what Irish policymakers could do to improve the business environment. He cited funding increases for Irish universities, but he also appeared to criticise Irish policies on corporate tax.

“We also cannot continue to be a ‘bed and breakfast’ location for multinationals taking advantage of our tax policies,” he said.

Ireland has co-operated with an Organisation for Economic Cooperation Development-led (OECD) process that aims to rewrite the global rulebook on corporate tax avoidance.

Changes

“We need to get out ahead of the imminent OECD tax changes and change our ways rapidly,” Mr O’Brien told the student newspaper.

His spokesman has not yet responded to a request from The Irish Times for comment, in particular in relation to his comments on corporate tax.

Mr O’Brien has been personally tax resident outside the State for two decades, although he has in the past challenged the assertion that he is a “tax exile”.

A High Court ruling in 2013 saved him €57 million in capital gains tax. The court found he was resident in Portugal in 2000, when he received €285 million for his shares in Esat after it was sold to BT.

Mr O’Brien argued he had moved to Portugal with his family in February 2000 and was thus not liable for the tax. He has since moved his official address to an apartment complex in Sliema in Malta.

In his recent College Tribune interview, Mr O’Brien was also asked about his worst business move. He said investing in INM was “the wrong decision”.

The publisher, where he was the major shareholder, was sold last year at a knockdown price to Belgian group Mediahuis.

High Court inspectors are currently examining a range of issues covering the period when Mr O’Brien’s close ally Leslie Buckley was chairman, including an allegation by the State’s corporate watchdog, the ODCE, that Mr Buckley ran a secret operation to parse the emails of journalists and other staff.