O’Brien: Newspaper’s lawyers are trying to ‘blacken me’

Denis O’Brien told the High Court it was not true the final report of the Moriarty Tribunal was devastating for him.

He disputed the tribunal findings, believed the report had ignored the evidence of a key witness, got certain things wrong, and was based on the opinion of Mr Justice Michael Moriarty, not on the basis of what would be required in a court.

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

Yesterday, on his second day in the witness box, he accused counsel for the Mail of re-running the tribunal and trying to “blacken me”.

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

The article was headlined: “Moriarty is about to report, no wonder Denis O’Brien is acting the saint in stricken Haiti.”

Mr O’Brien’s action for damages is against Mail publishers Associated Newspapers, its editor in chief Paul Dacre, its then editor Paul Field, and Mr Drury.

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

Cross-examined yesterday by Oisin Quinn SC, for the defendants, he said there were “60 findings” adverse to him in the tribunal report which were “all wrong”.

He said he had given interviews to journalists before the Mail article about preliminary tribunal findings that were already in the public domain. He said counsel for the Mail was going through newspaper articles at the time and “re-running the tribunal to try and blacken me”.

Put to him that the tribunal found his previous company, Esat Digifone, had given money to former minister Michael Lowry for helping the company get a mobile phone licence, he said no witness told the tribunal he gave money to Mr Lowry and the tribunal did not say he had a corrupt relationship with Mr Lowry.

The tribunal had called him from a family holiday to answer questions, for 15 minutes, over an anonymous letter which would have been thrown out in any court of law.

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

Also yesterday, Haitian politician Josefa Gauthier told the court Mr O’Brien loved Haiti.

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

The case continues.

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