[the guardian] Cable & Wireless Communications has won a three-year legal fight with bitter rival Digicel that looks likely to land Irish entrepreneur Denis O'Brien with a legal bill of up to £25m.
Digicel, which O'Brien set up almost a decade ago, had accused C&W of impeding its entry into the Caribbean telecoms market. The international arm of C&W, which recently demerged as Cable & Wireless Communications (C&WC), is the former monopoly player in many markets in the region.
But after a three-year legal tussle, culminating in a 77-day trial in London, a high court judge has dismissed all but one of Digicel's claims. Even in the one area where the judge did find C&W at fault, in the Turks and Caicos islands, the judge awarded damages understood to be a mere £2.
"This is a resounding victory for Cable & Wireless Communications," said Tony Rice, its chief executive. "This case has been a pointless waste of time and money. I am delighted we have won and are now free from this unnecessary distraction."
When he launched the case Denis O'Brien, best known in the UK for his long-running feud with Anthony O'Reilly and his son Gavin over the future of Independent News & Media, was claiming damages in excess of £300m. After the judgment, C&WC will make a claim for costs and together with O'Brien's own legal fees the bill could be as high as £25m.
The allegations centred on problems that Digicel claimed it had experienced when trying to connect to C&W's network when it moved into new markets between 2002 and 2006.
Connecting to an existing operator is crucial for any new entrant, which needs to be able to allow customers to call and be called by people on other networks. Digicel, which has 10.7 million customers in 32 markets, also claimed that there was a conspiracy to keep it out of some Caribbean territories and was claiming for lost earnings.
The case involved claims that C&WC broke the law in six Caribbean territories: Barbados, Cayman, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and the Turks and Caicos islands. Similar allegations were also made against TSTT, the Trinidad and Tobago-based telecom operator, the government-controlled telecoms company in which C&WC is a shareholder.
The judge was scathing about the situation in Trinidad and Tobago, describing senior executives of TSTT and its contractor, Nortel, as acting "contrary to honest practices". Digicel blamed the loss of its case on "the weak regulatory frameworks in place in these Caribbean jurisdictions". "As a champion of competition for the good of consumers, Digicel believes that Cable & Wireless Communications should be brought to book," Digicel added in a statement. As a result it will be asking the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad & Tobago (TATT) to conduct a full inquiry into the actions of TSTT.
Cable & Wireless Communications wins legal war with Digicel