Judge takes possession of papers at centre of State investigation into INM
Outgoing chairman Leslie Buckley claims legal privilege over papers sought by ODCE
Leslie Buckley, chairman of Independent News & Media. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
A High Court judge on Monday took possession of a sealed envelope of documents over which Leslie Buckley, the outgoing chairman of Independent News & Media (INM), is claiming legal privilege in the face of a demand from the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE).
Mr Justice Peter Kelly was personally handed the large brown package, which was brought to the court directly from the ODCE’s Dublin offices where it has remained, unopened, in a locked cabinet for several weeks.
Following submissions from Brian Murray, barrister for the ODCE, the judge will open the package in private to assess if the documents are legally privileged. He is expected to deliver his ruling in the coming weeks.
The sealed package was sent to the ODCE in November by Mr Buckley, who is at the centre of an investigation into INM by the State corporate watchdog. He sent the files in part-response to a statutory demand by the ODCE in October.
The ODCE is investigating the circumstances of a bitter boardroom row at INM, beginning in 2016, over a proposed acquisition of Newstalk radio station. This sparked a whistleblower complaint against Mr Buckley by INM’s former chief executive, Robert Pitt.
The investigation has since widened to encompass a “potential data breach” at the media group. The ODCE has asked Mr Buckley to explain who paid for the services of outside cybersecurity experts who were granted access to INM’s IT system. Its statutory demand of last October is related to this strand of its investigation.
The INM chairman produced 250 documents in response to the ODCE’s demand, but claimed various forms of privilege over 11 of the documents.
Mr Buckley, who represents INM’s main shareholder Denis O’Brien on the newspaper publisher’s board, was not present in court on Monday for the brief hearing.
Last week, he announced that he will step down from his role at INM following a shareholders meeting on March 1st.