Central Bank to renew court bid to access ODCE’s INM documents

Regulator ‘taking seriously’ claims that possible inside information passed to Denis O’Brien

Central Bank, Dublin. It is expected that the bank will return to court in coming weeks to seek formal access to court papers submitted by the head of the ODCE, Ian Drennan. Photograph: Hufton & Crow

Central Bank, Dublin. It is expected that the bank will return to court in coming weeks to seek formal access to court papers submitted by the head of the ODCE, Ian Drennan. Photograph: Hufton & Crow

 

Publishing group Independent News and Media (INM) is facing the possibility of a fresh State investigation, this time by the Central Bank of Ireland under market abuse rules.

If it proceeds, it will be the third State regulator to launch an investigation into the company, after the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) and the Data Protection Commission (DPC).

It is understood that the Central Bank, as the ultimate regulator of the stock market, is taking “seriously” allegations that inside information on publicly-listed INM may have been passed by its former chairman, Leslie Buckley, to its major shareholder, Denis O’Brien.

It is expected that the Central Bank will return to court in coming weeks to seek formal access to court papers submitted by Ian Drennan, the head of the ODCE, who wants High Court inspectors appointed to INM to investigate a range of allegations.

The Central Bank told the High Court on Thursday it was not proceeding with an application to access the material. It is understood, however, this was purely for “procedural” reasons relating to the process of requesting the documents.

Suspicions

The regulator is expected to formally renew its bid to access the papers at a later date. It told The Irish Times last night that it does not comment on whether or not it is conducting investigations, but that if suspicions around any “unlawful” transfers of inside information are brought to its attention, it will “examine the circumstances and take appropriate action”.

Mr Drennan has outlined at least nine separate instances where he said inside information on INM may have been passed to Mr O’Brien by Mr Buckley, including receiving stock market announcements ahead of other shareholders.

Mr Buckley has said he will defend himself against “each and every” allegation by the ODCE and declined to comment further last night. INM also declined to comment, but has previously told the High Court it believes Mr Drennan is “misguided” in his concerns about possible market abuse. Mr O’Brien has not commented.

Concerns

The papers submitted in March to the High Court by Mr Drennan also outline his concerns over other issues, including a suspected data breach that may include journalists’ contacts with sources. This matter has caught the DPC’s attention. The ODCE is also investigating corporate governance matters at INM.

In court on Thursday, the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, noted the Central Bank application was not proceeding. He was also told by Shane Murphy SC, for INM, that lawyers for The Irish Times had written to say it was not bringing a formal application concerning access to documents.

The ODCE application arose from protected disclosures made by former INM chief executive Robert Pitt and INM chief financial officer Ryan Preston, on dates in 2016 and 2017.

INM opposes the appointment of inspectors and is seeking a judicial review, to be heard next Tuesday, aimed at quashing the decision of the ODCE. The ODCE application will proceed only if INM loses its judicial review.