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I did give FG $50k ... because they asked -- O'Brien

BUSINESSMAN Denis O'Brien has alleged that Fine Gael asked for a $50,000 donation.

The tycoon today attacked the Moriarty Tribunal and its chairman who he claimed was "trying to besmirch everybody". He also said somebody in Fine Gael sought a donation from him.

The tribunal's report states that in December 1995 Norwegian company Telenor made a $50,000 political donation to Fine Gael on instruction from Mr O'Brien. The money was transferred to the Jersey account of David Austin, who was a FG fundraiser and acquaintance of Mr O'Brien and then-minister Michael Lowry. Mr Austin subsequently attempted to transfer the cash to Fine Gael but party leader John Bruton rejected it.

But a year later Mr Austin did forward the donation pretending it was from him. Esat Digifone later reimbursed Telenor. Asked today why Telenor made the contribution, Mr O'Brien said: "Very simple. We were asked for it."

Mr O'Brien noted that the report did not accuse "us all of being corrupt but he actually in a very churlish sort of way starts saying things that are untrue, based on hearsay".

He took issue with the reports account of a meeting that he had with Michael Lowry on All Ireland day 1995. The pair met at Croke Park where the Judge concluded that Mr Lowry mused that "Esat Digifone was in pole position in the competition, but that the evaluators had reservations surrounding its financial capability, stemming from the financial vulnerability of Mr O'Brien's element of the consortium". Responding to this, Mr O'Brien said: "It's completely fabricated. Basically Justice Moriarty is trying to create a conversation that never happened. I met Micheal Lowry in a busy Dublin pub, now if you want to have a conversation with a minister, a quiet word in a minister's ear, you wouldn't go to a busy pub on All Ireland day." He said that they spoke about fixed line business and never discussed the mobile phone process.

"It's a really, really low standard of findings. It wouldn't hold up in any court of law," he said.

Mr O'Brien said that the findings were based on "hearsay and innuendo". "If Justice Moriarty thinks I'm finished with the Moriarty Tribunal I'm not," he warned. Mr O'Brien added: "They could never ever say that one red cent went to Micheal Lowry when he was a minister, a public official or a private citizen and that is the case today.

"There is no evidence that I got involved in any property deals with Michael Lowry whatsoever."

kdoyle@herald.ie