In a serious of interviews with Sunday Papers, Denis O’Brien revealed that the Moriarty Tribunal has ruled against him in sixty areas. Since the inception of the Tribunal O’Brien has tried and tried again to portray it as having an agenda against him, often seeking injunctions against it and even once bringing it to the attention of the European Court of Human Rights. In these interviews he switched his spin machine into overdrive, suggesting that the results would greatly hamper Ireland’s reputation and declaring himself a champion of civil servants. There is a strange irony here that Denis O’Brien should also be worrying about the tax payers in that, just before he sold Esat, he fled to Portugal as a tax exile and avoided paying tax on the sale.
O’Brien holds the belief that the State has wasted vast sums of money on the tribunal, even going so far as to buy anonymous ads in newspapers concerning the expenses of some tribunal lawyers. To date the Moriarty Tribunal has cost just over €200 million, it’s findings will leave the State vulnerable to possibly paying between €3-400 million to two loosing bidders, Persona and Cellstar. O’Brien has argued, and will undoubtedly continue to argue that the state cannot afford these. Those who agree with O’Brien are overlooking one very important factor here however.
Since the original granting of the license in 1995, vast sums of money have traded hands between all parties involved in Esat, TELNOR, BT, and Teléfonica. In 1999 the TELENOR and Esat boards began to disagree over the running of Esat Digifone as it had become known. With each board attempting to buy out the other’s stake and neither being successful. In 1999, BT, backed by the Esat board took over the company in a friendly takeover for a sum of £2.2 billion. With £1 billion going to Telenor, and the rest being divided between Desmond and O’Brien and others. Neither TELNOR nor BT can claim ignorance here to say they were unaware of what they were getting into as the rumours of the questionable awards process were well under way. BT also placed a health warning in the spinoff prospectus of mmo2 saying there was potential liability concerning the award issue. The company later became o2 Ireland after the spin off of mmo2. In October 2005, the Spanish mobile communication company Telefónica bid (successfully) for o2 Ireland. They may or may not have been warned of the issues concerning the license process. If they were it is entirely possible they took out a mitigation measure.
It is now entirely possible that the Irish state was subverted by business interests and if so it is not innocent. The cost of the tribunal and the payouts it will have to make are only a fraction of how it stands to gain. After the ruling of the tribunal a file will be sent to the DPP and CAB. Immediately the government can pursue the £2.2 billion and all of it’s subsequent investments as well as possibly reopening of the license bidding process which should allow it to be sold for more then the Esat consortium originally paid. If this were to happen it would be the single greatest CAB seizure in their history and a major windfall for the Irish exchequer who are currently scrambling to find money anywhere they can. The upside for the Irish taxpayer could amount to offset several months of borrowings for the state.