Denis O'Brien 'makes no apologies' for using Clinton friendship to get Haiti aid

The Irish billionaire is a major donor to the Clinton Foundation.

By Paul O'Donoghue

IRISH BILLIONAIRE DENIS O’Brien petitioned the Clinton Foundation – to which he has been a major donor - for help getting aid into Haiti after the Caribbean country was rocked by a devastating earthquake in 2010.

The media mogul’s telecommunications company, Digicel, is based in Jamaica and its main markets and operations are in Caribbean locations such as Haiti.

According to emails obtained by ABC news, after the deadly 2010 Haitain earthquake, O’Brien was trying to fly relief supplies into the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and get employees of his company out.

Death toll estimates from the earthquake vary, with a 2010 University of Michigan study pegging the loss of life at 160,000. The official estimate from the Haitian government is 316,000.

ABC quotes an email sent by Amitabh Desai, the director of foreign policy for the Clinton Foundation, which said that O’Brien’s Digicel was finding it difficult to provide aid.

“This WJC VIP (William Jefferson Clinton VIP) just called again from Jamaica to say Digicel is being pushed by US Army to get comms back up but is not being cleared by (the US government) to deploy into Haiti to do so,” he wrote in an email with the subject line “Close friend of Clintons.”

Desperate times

ABC said that O’Brien then wrote to Clinton aide Doug Band and said that: “We’re finding it impossible to get landing slots.”

“I’m sorry to bother you, but I am not making any progress through conventional channels,” he said.

Band reportedly asked Desai to “pls get on this,” and then told O’Brien, “never a bother.”

The US news outlet then said that the request was moved “up the chain of command to USAID (United States Agency for International Development) officials organising the relief effort”.

File Photo The Republican party's US presidential candidate Donald Trump has launched a fresh attack against Hillary Clinton because of her relationship with Digicel founder Denis O'Brien

In an interview with ABC, O’Brien said that desperate times called for desperate measures.

“I don’t see any problem contacting anybody in the United States if I’m bringing in emergency aid where people are dying on the street because of lack of medical attention,” he said. “I make no apologies for that.”


The Clinton Foundation also told ABC that it “facilitated” the construction of a Marriott hotel owned by O’Brien in Port-au-Prince.

O’Brien said that he financed the hotel himself and told the US station Bill Clinton “was encouraging to everybody.”

“He would introduce people to other people and say ‘Why don’t you do this project?’” he said. “In the aftermath of the earthquake, President Clinton said to 50, 60 and 100 people, ‘Please come down to Haiti, maybe invest money there, maybe adopt a project.’”

O’Brien defended the decision to build the Marriott. He was quoted as saying: “If you want to get foreign investors to come down to Haiti, they want to stay in branded hotel. They want to stay in comfort environment. And they want to have the place to have meetings.”

Fora attempted to contact a spokesman for O’Brien but had received no request for comment at the time of publication.

O’Brien and Digicel are large donors to the Clinton foundation. According to the Clinton Foundation’s website, Denis O’Brien and Digicel were together one of 17 donors to contribute between $10 million and $25 million to the organisation.

The website notes that the donation from O’Brien and Digicel was made in the second quarter of 2016.

Links between the Clintons and O’Brien have also recently made their way into the US presidential debate, with Republican candidate Donald Trump criticising rival Hillary Clinton’s ties to the “cell phone tycoon”.