To say he was a tax exile because he lives abroad was not correct, as he spent three quarters of his time abroad because the Digicel Group, of which he is chairman, has interests from Fiji to the Caribbean, he said.
Mr O’Brien was giving evidence on his third day in the witness box in his defamation action over an Irish Daily Mail article which he says accused him of being a hypocrite for his efforts to assist in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
The article by Paul Drury was published on Jan 22, 2010, and headlined “Moriarty is about to report, no wonder Denis O’Brien is acting the saint in stricken Haiti”.
Mr O’Brien claimed it meant his actions in Haiti were motivated by self-interest and designed to deflect attention away from the Moriarty Tribunal report, which contained findings adverse to Mr O’Brien but which he strongly disputes.
The Mail, two of its editors, and Mr Drury deny the claim and say it was an opinion honestly held and based on facts Mr Drury believed were true.
Under cross-examination yesterday by Oisin Quinn SC, for the defendants, Mr O’Brien said that, as a shareholder in Esat Digifone, which won the second mobile phone licence in 1995, he received €295m from the sale of the company to British Telecom in 2000.
In 2012, he received hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends from the Digicel Group, but disagreed that because he was now “living in a flat in Malta” he did not pay any tax on that.
“I pay all my taxes in Ireland,” he said.
“I am a significant taxpayer in Ireland and that was one of the incorrect things [in the article] describing me as a tax exile.”
He disagreed the main reason he moved to Malta was for tax.
“I do not work in Ireland. I have some business here but 95% of my businesses are scattered around the world.”
Pressed by Mr Quinn that he had never complained about being described in the article as a tax exile, Mr O’Brien insisted that a tax exile was someone who did not pay their taxes in Ireland.
“I pay all my PAYE and I would be one of the largest taxpayers,” he said.
The court also heard of efforts by Digicel personnel to assist RTÉ reporter Charlie Bird getting into Haiti after the earthquake.