The Attorney General acts privately for the former directors of Independent News & Media in their dealings with High Court inspectors investigating the affairs of the company.
The inspectors were appointed by the High Court following a request by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), the state’s business law enforcement authority.
Following questions from the Irish Times on Wednesday, it emerged that Attorney General Paul Gallagher had been authorized by the government to deal with a number of outstanding cases following his appointment.
Asked about Mr Gallagher’s continued work on the INM case, the government spokesperson said: “Prior to his appointment in June 2020, the attorney general revealed that he had a few existing litigation engagements to complete and has received government clearance. “
The spokesperson’s statement did not give details of any other ongoing litigation work undertaken by the attorney general, who is a cabinet member and legal adviser to the government. He is also legal adviser to each administration and certain public bodies, and represents the State in court.
News and independent media
The INM case, which has been ongoing for several years, is the current ODCE investigation and the most publicized. Court inspectors are lawyer Seán Gillane SC, specialized in criminal law, and Richard Fleck, lawyer and corporate governance expert based in the United Kingdom.
Mr Gallagher, a senior lawyer who also served as attorney general between 2007 and 2011, represented the INM in 2018 when it sought to block the appointment of High Court inspectors.
INM is now known as Mediahuis Ireland after the company was bought out in 2019 by a Belgian media group in a deal that led to the departure of billionaire businessman Denis O’Brien, who was the dominant shareholder.
Mr Gallagher would act on behalf of a number of former INM directors, including one, Dr Len O’Hagan, who remains on the board of directors of Mediahuis Ireland. He does not represent the company itself in the investigation, of course.
Asked about Mr Gallagher’s work on the case, a spokesperson for Mediahuis Ireland said the company had made no comment.
Suspected data breach
The inspectors’ work continues in private, so Mr Gallagher has not appeared publicly for his clients.
The ODCE requested the appointment of inspectors after a year-long investigation into issues raised in protected disclosures made in 2016 and 2017 by former INM CEO Robert Pitt and former CFO Ryan Preston.
The inspectors’ investigation focuses on an alleged data breach in 2014 involving emails belonging to lawyers, senior journalists, former INM executives and public relations figures when Mr. O’Brien was the main shareholder of the company.
The High Court heard that INM backup computer tapes ended up in the hands of third-party companies for “data queries” on information relating to 19 named individuals, who have come to be known as INM 19.
Some of the people at INM 19 had come into conflict with Mr. O’Brien, who then owned 29.9% of the company and whose close associate Leslie Buckley was president of INM until March 2018. INM blamed Mr. Buckley for the data breach. He denied any wrongdoing.