Tribunal 'was not devastating' - O'Brien

Denis O'Brien and Josefa Gauthier arriving at the Four Courts today before both gave evidence during the second day of his High Court libel action for damages against Associated Newspapers. Photograph: Collins Courts

Denis O'Brien and Josefa Gauthier arriving at the Four Courts today before both gave evidence during the second day of his High Court libel action for damages against Associated Newspapers. Photograph: Collins Courts

Thu, Feb 7, 2013, 00:00

Businessman Denis O’Brien has told the High Court it is “not true” to suggest the final report of the Moriarty Tribunal was devastating for him.

He said he disputed and continues to dispute the tribunal findings. Its report ignored the evidence of a key witness, got certain things “completely wrong” and was in the end based on the opinion of tribunal chairman Mr Justice Michael Moriarty, not on what would be required in a court, he said.

Mr O’Brien, whose business interests include the international Digicell telecommunications group, is suing for defamation over an article in the Irish Daily Mail published on January 22nd 2010.

Written by Paul Drury, it was headlined: “Moriarty is about to report, no wonder Denis O’Brien is acting the saint in stricken Haiti.”

He claims the article wrongly accused him of being a hypocrite when he was involved in the relief effort for victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

He claims the article meant what he was doing in Haiti was motivated by self interest and designed to deflect attention away from the Moriarty Tribunal report.

The article was nasty, spiteful and grubby and caused damage to his good name and reputation, he claims.

The action is against Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Irish Daily Mail; editor in chief Paul Dacre; then editor of the Irish Daily Mail Paul Field and Mr Drury.

They deny the claims and plead the article was a piece of opinion honestly held based on facts the author believed were true.

On the second day yesterday of the case before Ms Justcie Elizabeth Dunne and a jury, the former Minister for Social Affairs in Haiti, Josefa Gauthier, said Mr O’Brien never “acted” an interest in Haiti.

“He loves Haiti and did it with his heart.”

Ms Gauthier was in 2006 appointed director of the Digicell Foundation, set up by Mr O’Brien’s company and involved in building 150 schools in Haiti.

When Digicell came and invested in the country “Haitians were so happy, they thought it was Christmas,” she said.

Earlier, cross-examined by Oisin Quinn SC, for the defence, Mr O’Brien accused counsel, in going through various newspaper articles, of “re-running” the Moriarty tribunal and trying to “blacken me”.

There were “60 findings” adverse to him in the tribunal report which “are all wrong”, he said.

He had given interviews to journalists before the Mail article about preliminary tribunal findings already in the public domain, he said.

When it was put to him the tribunal found his previous company, Esat Digifone, had given large amounts of money to former Minister Michael Lowry for helping the company get the country’s second mobile phone licence, he said no witness ever told the tribunal he had given money to Mr Lowry and the tribunal did not say he had a corrupt relationship with Mr Lowry.

He disagreed he ran a public relations campaign including a newspaper advert “slagging off” tribunal lawyers. He put an advert in a newspaper pointing out a tribunal barrister claimed for a Toblerone chocolate from a hotel mini-bar when that lawyer was being paid €3,500 a day at taxpayers expense.

Anyone who had been involved, as he had been, with a tribunal for ten or 11 years would get quite emotional and would begin to question the credibility of people in it, though not of the chairman Mr Justice Moriarty, he said.

The tribunal had called him from a family holiday to answer questions for just 15 minutes over an anonymous letter which would have been “thrown out in any court of law”, he said. His wife’s medical records were also opened up by the tribunal.

Mr O’Brien accepted he said in one newspaper interview he would fight the tribunal “street by street”. He felt strongly its findings were simply wrong, he said.

It was “not true” the final tribunal report was devastating for him, he said. It had, for instance, ignored evidence of a key witness, Danish telecommunications expert, Professor Michael Andersen, a lead consultant during the evaluation process for the second phone licence competition, he said.

Earlier, he denied, around the time of the Mail article, it was expected the tribunal report was about to be published. A simple phone call to the Law Library would have shown that was not the case and it was not published for another 14 months, he said.

He disputed the Mail’s claim the article was an opinion piece and insisted it was a news piece containing 11 or 12 facts that were “wrong”.

The case continues.