INM says ODCE inquiry means it ‘cannot move’ on dividend

New chairman Murdoch MacLennan faces shareholders for the first time at agm

Michael Doorly, the chief executive of INM, addressed shareholders at the agm in relation to a new strategic direction for the company that it has formulated with the help of consultants, EY.  Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Michael Doorly, the chief executive of INM, addressed shareholders at the agm in relation to a new strategic direction for the company that it has formulated with the help of consultants, EY. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The new chairman of Independent News & Media (INM) says it cannot pay shareholders a dividend because of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) investigation into the company.

Murdoch MacLennan, who was appointed chairman in March to replace Leslie Buckley, was asked by a shareholder at the company’s agm in Dublin on Friday if INM, which has a cash pile of €91.5 million, was about to pay a dividend.

“We are constantly keeping the position of a dividend under review,” Mr Mac Lennan replied. “But because of the ODCE [investigation] we can’t move at all on that... But we are keeping the dividend situation under constant review.”

INM is currently embroiled in legal action with the ODCE, which wants to appoint High Court inspectors to the listed company as part of a long-running investigation into concerns over the conduct of INM and its board.

These include allegations that cybersecurity experts hired by Mr Buckley without the knowledge of INM’s board, and allegedly paid for by a company controlled by shareholder Denis O’Brien, may have accessed journalists emails.

Speaking to reporters after the agm, Mr MacLennan, a former chief executive of the Telegraph Media Group, said he did not know how much the ODCE situation would ultimately cost the company.

Compromised

Mr MacLennan released a statement on Friday morning, which was later read out to shareholders at the meeting, saying INM was “horrified” at the prospect that journalists’ sources could possibly have been compromised. It said it would pursue “any third parties” that may have had knowledge of wrongdoing.

When asked if he or INM has directly contacted Mr O’Brien to ask for his assistance in finding out more about the circumstances surrounding the alleged data breach, Mr MacLennan declined to comment.

When asked if the board was considering a proposal from a minority shareholder bloc that INM use its cash pile to buy out Mr O’Brien, Mr MacLennan replied that he “cannot comment on that”.

Paul Connolly, a nominee of Mr O’Brien’s to the board of INM, said he had not discussed the ODCE’s investigation into the company with the businessman. Mr O’Brien’s spokesman made no reply to a request for comment.

New strategic direction

Michael Doorly, the chief executive of INM, addressed shareholders at the agm in relation to a new strategic direction for the company that it has formulated with the help of consultants, EY.

He unveiled a new statement of strategic “purpose” for the company, which he said would serve as a “north star” to motivate those involved with company and “ground the organisation” towards its objectives. The statement says INM is in the business of “enriching people’s lives”.

The company’s new strategy is based around protecting its core business, developing new revenue-producing “niches”, and investing in the business to protect its future.

The members of INM’s board who were put forward for re-election – including Terry Buckley, Triona Mullane, Mr Connolly, Len O’Hagan and Mr Doorly – were all returned to the board by shareholders.