Former INM chairman will ‘robustly defend’ himself against allegations

Leslie Buckley says he is ‘appalled’ at sharing of affidavit and is co-operating with ODCE

Leslie Buckley, ex-chairman of INM, at the media group’s annual meeting in Dublin last August. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Leslie Buckley, the former chairman of Independent News & Media (INM), has said he will robustly defend his position against "each and every allegation" that has been made against him in connection with an investigation being carried out by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

The ODCE’s investigation relates to the proposed sale of national radio station Newstalk to INM in 2016, and to an alleged data breach at INM dating back to 2014.

In a statement issued on Friday, Mr Buckley said he was “appalled at the widespread circulation and sharing of the ODCE’s court document containing the most serious and damaging of allegations relating to my tenure as chairman of INM plc.

“I believe that due process and fair procedures have been completely and wholly disregarded in this instance.”

READ MORE

Mr Buckley said he has consistently maintained a position of not commenting in the midst of an ongoing statutory process, but on this occasion felt compelled to do so.

“I will continue to co-operate fully with the ODCE and will robustly defend my position against each and every allegation,” he said. “I am advised to reserve my position.”

Mr Buckley is at the heart of two controversies that have led to an application from the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), Ian Drennan, to have High Court inspectors appointed to INM. This is his first public statement about the controversy.

The application is to be heard on April 16th and the affidavit grounding the application has been served on INM and filed in the High Court, but has not yet been opened in court.

Extensive reporting

However, since last Sunday INM titles have been reporting extensively on the content of the affidavit, while there have also been reports in The Irish Times and other media groups.

Mr Buckley is a close associate of the largest shareholder in INM, Denis O’Brien, and served on the INM board from 2009 until March 1st 2018. He served as chairman from 2012.

In the affidavit, Mr Drennan expresses concern about a proposed sale of Mr O'Brien's radio station, Newstalk, to INM, at a price that the then chief executive, Robert Pitt, thought might be up to €20 million higher than the €10 million to €12 million he was advised it was worth.

Mr Buckley was in favour of the purchase, according to the affidavit. The deal never went ahead and Mr Pitt subsequently made a protected disclosure to the ODCE.

Mr Drennan is also concerned about an apparently very large data breach at INM which involved Mr Buckley and saw INM data being given to third parties who then reportedly “interrogated” the data.

According to Mr Drennan’s affidavit, the work done by the external parties arising from the apparent breach in October 2014, was paid for by an Isle of Man company called Blaydon Ltd, which is in turn owned by Mr O’Brien.

Paradise Papers

Disclosures in the Paradise Papers included references to the use of by Mr O’Brien of banks accounts in the Republic in Blaydon’s name.

A 2015 document contained in the Paradise Papers leak and produced by Barclays Wealth Trustees, who handle aspects of Mr O’Brien’s affairs, said that Blaydon operated as a nominee for Mr O’Brien in relation to a number of bank accounts in the Republic that received and paid out “large sums (around €2 million per month at times)”.

The board of INM is being advised by Paul Gallagher SC, Shane Murphy SC, and McCann Fitzgerald solicitors, and is to take a view as to the attitude it will adopt when the ODCE application comes before the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, on April 16th.

Mr O’Brien has yet to comment on the controversy. The affidavit was filed in the High Court on March 23rd.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent