Denis O’Brien sought search warrant over conspiracy claims

Businessman alleges documents on memory stick had been altered by Red Flag

The computer memory stick at the centre of Denis O’Brien’s latest legal action contains some 80 files – including newspaper cuttings, Dáil and legal transcripts – along with a draft speech for an Opposition TD.

The Irish Times has learned that lawyers for Mr O'Brien initially sought to use one of the most powerful civil law instruments – a so-called Anton Piller order – to obtain what is effectively a search warrant against public relations firm Red Flag and five employees of it, including non-executive chairman Gavin O'Reilly, the former chief executive of Independent News and Media which is now controlled by Mr O'Brien.

The others are Karl Brophy, Red Flag's chief executive; Séamus Conboy, Red Flag director of campaigns; Bríd Murphy, digital account manager, and former social media executive with Fine Gael; and Kevin Hiney, an account executive who worked formerly with the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Anonymous source

Mr O’Brien alleges the company is involved in a conspiracy to damage him and that documents on the memory stick had been altered. The


High Court

has been told it came into Mr O’Brien’s possession from an anonymous source after he had retained private investigators.

Mr O’Brien is claiming damages for alleged defamation and conspiracy and, on Tuesday, his lawyers obtained an interim High Court order preventing Red Flag Consulting interfering with or removing computer material and other IT items from its offices.

A formal complaint was made yesterday by a solicitor representing Mr Brophy at Pearse Street Garda station in Dublin, seeking an investigation into how the material came to be on the memory stick.

The case is due for mention in the High Court again today before Mr Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh.

When Mr O’Brien’s lawyers went to the High Court on Tuesday they sought to avail of one of the most powerful instruments available to a litigant – an Anton Piller order.

This obliges the person upon whom it is served to give the person to whom it has been granted access to their property to search it. The legal effect of non-compliance with the order is contempt of court.

In this case, Mr O’Brien wanted access to the Dublin offices of Red Flag, to find evidence of a conspiracy which he claimed had been hatched to damage him and in which the company and others are involved.

The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, declined Mr O'Brien's request.

None of the defendants was in court because Mr O’Brien’s application was made initially ex parte, that is, without the other side being alerted.

The order Mr Justice Kearns granted – which was not an Anton Piller order – reveals the contents of the memory stick: some 80 documents, mostly PDFs.

They include one entitled “Who is Denis O’Brien?”, a profile-cum-biography of the businessman; another is entitled “Moriarty Tribunal Explainer,” concentrating heavily on the findings made by the judge against Mr O’Brien and the former minister for communications, Michael Lowry.

The newspaper clippings include one from 2011 about Bill Clinton getting a lift in Mr O'Brien's jet. Another, from the Washington Examiner, is about the Clinton Foundation and Haiti, where Mr O'Brien has business interests and has funded charitable relief work.

One from the Washington Post is about Huma Abedin, an aide to Hillary Clinton. Several others, from The Irish Times and Bloomberg, deal with the recently abandoned Digicel flotation.

Peace process

Another comes from Irish Central, the New York-based online media outlet run by Niall O'Dowd for Irish-Americans. It dates from June 2014 and deals with Mrs Clinton and the peace process.

There are examples of reports from the Sunday Business Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Haitian Reporter, the Daily Telegraph, and the Journal among others.

There is a copy also of the judgment, by Mr Justice Donald Binchy, in the case of Mr O'Brien versus the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, successor to Anglo Irish Bank, in which Mr O'Brien sought an injunction preventing disclosure of his arrangements with IBRC.

There is a transcript of Dáil exchanges about Siteserv, the company bought by Mr O'Brien and which is installing water meters for Irish Water, along with a draft speech prepared for Fianna Fáil Galway East TD Colm Keaveney.

Mr Justice Kearns granted Mr O’Brien’s lawyers an order restraining Red Flag destroying, tampering with, cancelling or giving away anything on the stick until further notice.

The order likewise restrained them from disclosing anything in a report by Espion, a Dublin-based digital security company whose October 12th report prompted Mr O'Brien's action.

Three other points of the order precluded the defendants – Red Flag and the five named individuals – from revealing anything about the order.

When Mr O’Brien’s lawyers returned to court on Wednesday they requested that reporting restrictions be lifted.

He varied matters to the effect that Red Flag should allow Mr O’Brien inspect documents, none of which should be destroyed, nor any information as to who had commissioned the dossier.

When contacted yesterday, James Morrissey, a spokesman for Mr O'Brien, declined to respond, saying only "the matter is sub judice".

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times