Denis O’Brien seeks to halt release of dossier about him
Billionaire businessman claims parties engaged in concerted conspiracy to damage him
Denis O’Brien alleges a forensic examination of that dossier indicates Dublin-based public relations firm Red Flag Consulting is linked to the alleged conspiracy and he has sued for damages. Photograph: Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg
Businessman Denis O’Brien is suing a Dublin public relations company for defamation and conspiracy over their alleged involvement in a “concerted and unlawful” conspiracy to damage him.
Former senior executives of Independent News & Media (INM) are involved in the PR company, Red Flag.
Mr O’Brien’s legal representatives told the High Court a memory stick supplied anonymously to him contained a dossier of documents disclosing an alleged concerted and unlawful conspiracy to damage him personally and commercially.
Mr O’Brien alleges a forensic examination of the dossier by a company named Espion indicated Red Flag Consulting Ltd was linked to the alleged conspiracy. Red Flag’s executives include Gavin O’Reilly, former chief executive of INM and Karl Brophy, a former senior executive with INM.
Mr O’Brien believes a client of Red Flag is behind the alleged conspiracy and he wants to establish the identity of any such client. He believes the dossier was also designed to be given to people who could avail of parliamentary privilege, the court heard.
Applying for the order on Tuesday on an ex-parte (one side only represented) basis, Michael Cush SC, for Mr O’Brien, said the defamatory material was in a dossier including eight Microsoft Office documents on a memory stick. The memory stick was provided anonymously to Mr O’Brien following an investigation which he ordered due to his belief that a concerted campaign was being waged against him. The material was clearly defamatory and dealt with matters including Mr O’Brien’s involvement with the Moriarty tribunal, his tax status as a resident in Portugal, the recent initial public offering of shares in his Digicel company and other allegations.
He said a court order permitting access to the company’s IT system would enable his side to identify contributors to and receivers of the material. While Red Flag involved “people with whom my client had previous dealings”, there was clearly a client involved as it was a PR firm, counsel said.
President of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said he was not inclined to grant the “quite draconian” order allowing lawyers and investigators to enter the Red Flag offices to take control of the computers. Such an order might seem unduly heavy-handed and could be perceived as interfering with the rights of the defendants, he said.
The High Court on Wednesday continued the interim orders for preservation of documents contained in the dossier. These include PDF documents entitled “Who is Denis O’Brien?” and “The Moriarty tribunal explainer”, along with many Irish and international media articles about Mr O’Brien which he contends are mostly unfavourable to him. The articles include pieces from the Washington Examiner, Boston Haitian Reporter, Bloomberg, Antigua Observer, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.
Mr Cush said none of the articles in the “extraordinary” dossier were “complimentary” to Mr O’Brien and it was clearly put together to brief against his interests. Mr Cush also said Mr Brophy was a former journalist with the Irish Mirror who wrote an article in 1998 which led to Mr O’Brien receiving €750,000 in damages. Mr Brophy later joined INM and subsequently blamed Mr O’Brien for his departure from that company, he said. There was “a very public prior history” between Gavin O’Reilly and the plaintiff, Mr Cush added. Mr O’Reilly’s departure from INM was widely said to coincide with Mr O’Brien taking a very significant shareholding in the company.
Mr Cush said there was no point pursuing his application for an order searching the defendants’ systems as they were on notice of the application. He said he wanted to change his application to seek an order for inspection of documents. Mr Cush said his core allegation was that the defendants had been involved in authoring documents as part of the conspiracy. There were a number of “unknowns” concerning who commissioned the defendants.
All the defendants except Mr O’Reilly were represented by Michael Collins SC, who said he needed time to prepare. He had just come into the case and, while it was unclear exactly what it was about and what was being sought, he anticipated he would get instructions to fully defend it. He also expected he would be representing Mr O’Reilly, who was in the US.
Mr Collins said the matter was not urgent and there was an “unfounded and unwarranted” suggestion his clients would breach a court order. It was “totally unreal” to suggest his side could put in a replying affidavit in days.
Mr Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh returned the matter for mention on Friday.