Independent News & Media, the parent company of The Independent, yesterday launched a vigorous defence of its corporate governance standards in the face of criticism from one of its major shareholders, the Irish financier Denis O'Brien.
Speaking at the compa-ny's annual general meeting, held for the first time in Belfast, Brian Mulroney, head of the nominations and corporate governance committee, said there wasn't "a scintilla of evidence" to support allegations of misconduct by the senior officers of INM and he described its directors as of the highest possible probity. Mr O'Brien - an unsuccessful rival a number of years ago of the company's chief executive, Sir Anthony O'Reilly, in the bidding for the Irish telecoms group Eircom - has been critical of the size of the INM board, its independence from the O'Reilly family and pay-ments made to non-executive directors. A report commissioned and paid for by Mr O'Brien has also questioned directors' expenses.
However, Mr Mulroney, a former Canadian prime minister, said that he had sat on the board of a number of major corporations, including JPMorgan Chase and Forbes International, and none of them surpassed Independent News &Media in independence, integrity and in application of corporate governance procedures.
"Well, there you go," said Mr Mulroney, as one shareholder shouted from the floor that the O'Brien report was "eighteen pages of shite". Mr Mulroney said that the report had managed inaccurately to name him as a director of Avis Budget Group, observing that if this was indicative of its accuracy there wasn't any need to spend time discussing it. …