Bill Clinton’s Irish Billionaire Buddy Under Fire for Sweetheart Loan Deal

Media tycoon wins legal injunction to ban media from reporting on scandal

Bill Clinton and Denis O'Brien in Haiti. (AP)
• May 29, 2015 4:14 pm


Irish billionaire and Bill Clinton crony Denis O'Brien is under fire in his home country (although he technically resides in Malta for tax purposes) over an alleged sweetheart loan deal with the publicly-owned Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC).

The controversy erupted after Catherine Murphy, an independent members of the Irish parliament, discussed some details of the loan arrangement, which involved a "verbal agreement" with former IBRC chief executive Mike Aynsley and an unusually low interest rate, in a speech to members on May 6.

Two weeks later, Ireland's state-owned broadcaster, RTÉ, was preparing to publish a story outlining the terms of O'Briens loan agreement in greater detail, but were prevented from doing so after O'Brien won a court injunction, citing the need to protect confidential financial information.

For this reason, few Irish media outlets reported on remarks Murphy made on Friday in another speech to Parliament, outlining the loan agreement in more detail. Because IBRC is owned by the state, Murphy argued, the terms of the loan were a matter of public interest. O'Brien was reportedly paying an extraordinarily low rate of 1.25 percent, well short of the standard commercial lending rate of 7.5 percent.

A story posted on the RTÉ website Friday contained the following disclaimer: "RTÉ is legally restricted from reporting what [Murphy] said, because to do so would breach the injunction already granted against it." O'Brien's lawyers, meanwhile, have argued that the injunction pertains to all Irish media outlets, some of which happen to be owned by O'Brien (and have yet to cover the story).

In recent years, O'Brien has developed a close personal friendship—and profitable business relationship—with former President Bill Clinton. O'Brien has organized a number of speaking gigs for the former president, including a September 2010 event in Dublin after which O'Brien donated as much as $10 million to the Clinton Foundation. Several week later, Clinton received $225,000 for speech hosted by O'Brien's telecom conglomerate, the Digital Group.

This was around the same time that Digicel was applying for lucrative State Department grants to provide mobile payment services in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Digicel would ultimately be awarded millions in U.S. taxpayer funds for its work in Haiti, which would help Digicel capture nearly 80 percent of the Haitian mobile phone market, making it the company's most profitable network.

Most recently, O'Brien partnered with Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation to build a luxury Marriott hotel in Port-au-Prince. Reports suggest that workers involved in the hotel's construction were paid significantly less than advertised. Just something to keep in mind whenever the Clintons' defend their foundation by citing the "good work" they do in places like Haiti.

O'Brien is no stranger to allegations of corruption. In 2011, following a 14-year investigation into political corruption, an Irish judge accused O’Brien and former a communications minister of colluding in the mid-1990s to help O'Brien secure lucrative mobile phone contracts that would help him launch his communications empire.

The investigation found evidence that the communications minister, Michael Lowry, had provided O'Brien with privileged information, and had engaged in "irregular interactions with interested parties at [the] most sensitive stages" of the government's deliberation. O’Brien, who was found to have funneled at least $170,000 to Lowry via "clandestine" transactions, denied any wronging and was never charged with a crime.

With friends like these…