Ireland is Facebook’s ‘laundrette’ for tax avoidance, claims Denis O’Brien

The Irish businessman said the social media company had 'become nearly too big to challenge,' and no single government would be able to rein it in alone
Ireland is Facebook’s ‘laundrette’ for tax avoidance, claims Denis O’Brien

Businessman Denis O’Brien has claimed that Ireland has become Facebook’s “laundrette for the biggest tax avoidance scheme in the world.”

Mr O’Brien said the relationship between Ireland and the social media company, which has its European headquarters here, was a “blot” on the country’s reputation.

The Irish businessman added that democracy was “under threat” from Facebook, which he claimed was “allowing its platform to facilitate anarchy”.

He made the series of critical comments at Cambridge University, during an annual lecture in memory of the late Fianna Fáil minister for finance Brian Lenihan who was a graduate of the university, according to The Irish Times.

“Ireland is a pivotal partner of Facebook because of its tax laws and regrettably is complicit with the egregious practices Facebook operates under,” he said.

‘New colonialists’

Mr O’Brien owns Caribbean mobile phone network Digicel, and was majority shareholder in Communicorp, a radio group that included stations Today FM and Newstalk, which was sold to UK-based Bauer Media Audio earlier this year.

“Many people will say that multinationals, like my company Digicel, are new colonialists,” he said.

He said Digicel made profits in countries such as Haiti but also had a responsibility to the development of the Caribbean country, saying: “We make profit in Haiti and happily pay corporation tax, sales tax and all other taxes.”

He criticised Facebook over its lack of corporation tax paid in Africa, describing it as “the most unbelievable and amoral business model one could ever imagine.”

Ireland regrettably has allowed itself to become Facebook’s laundrette for the biggest tax avoidance scheme in the world

“Ireland regrettably has allowed itself to become Facebook’s laundrette for the biggest tax avoidance scheme in the world,” he told the lecture.

Mr O’Brien said the company was “insidious”, and its platform had a role in spreading misinformation and hatred.

He said that the current Facebook controversy - with a number of whistleblowers in the United States criticising the company’s approach to user safety and efforts to tackle hate speech - reminded him “of what Germany experienced with creeping authoritarianism, which few people called out”.

The social media company had “become nearly too big to challenge,” and no single government would be able to rein it in alone, he said.

Facebook comment

A spokeswoman for Facebook said the company would not be commenting on Mr O’Brien’s speech.

However, the spokeswoman added that Facebook “comply with international tax rules and we pay all the taxes required in each of the countries in which we operate.”

The company paid $4.23 billion in corporate income taxes last year, mostly in the US, she said.

“We have long called for reform of the global tax rules and have wanted the international talks to succeed. We accept that may mean we have to pay more tax and pay it in different places,” the spokeswoman said.

She added that Facebook was involved in a number of projects in Africa to improve broadband, 4G and 5G access, including a large subsea cable project, 2Africa cable.

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