Esat challenges may proceed, court rules


IF TWO mobile phone companies prove they were “damnified by corruption at the highest level of government and public administration” in the awarding of the State’s second mobile phone licence to Esat Digifone, justice requires they must be compensated, a Supreme Court judge has said.

Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman said the integrity and reputation of Ireland requires trial of their claims of “covert, devious and concealed” corruption, despite the State’s opposition to any such trial.

The firms were alleging fraud, deceit and corruption against the State itself, a government department, the individual minister – Michael Lowry, “still a member of the Dáil” – and Denis O’Brien, “the wealthiest businessman in Ireland, a major figure even on the international stage”. The firms were alleging the corruption took the form of promised and actual covert payments – “bribes in a word” – from the businessman, or vehicles controlled by him, to the minister, the judge said.

Five Supreme Court judges all agreed yesterday, in the “absolutely unprecedented” circumstances of the actions brought by the unsuccessful applicants for the 1995 licence, that the delay in advancing them was excusable and the interest of justice required the cases should proceed.

The judges found the delay was excusable on grounds the consortiums were entitled to await the outcome of the 13-year Moriarty tribunal investigation.

Businessman Declan Ganley’s Comcast International Holdings Incorporated and Persona Digital Telephony Ltd had initiated separate actions in 2001 challenging the licence award and claiming multimillion euro in damages.