Express Newspapers owner Richard Desmond told a business associate that he was the “worst fucking enemy you’ll ever have” just days before before a critical article appeared about his company in the Sunday Express, the High Court heard today.
The jury in Desmond’s libel action against Conrad Black‘s biographer Tom Bower has heard evidence that Desmond did not have a grudge against Jafar Omid, managing director of hedge fund Pentagon Capital Management, in which Desmond’s son, Robert, had invested £50,000 in March 2003.
But, three days before an article headlined “David Cameron’s Friend and £1bn He Won’t Give Back” appeared on 13 July 2008, Desmond was involved in an acrimonious phone call with Omid.
Desmond is suing Bower over claims made in Bower’s book “Conrad And Lady Black: Dancing On The Edge” that he had abused his position to pursue a personal campaign against Black and was then forced into a humiliating climbdown.
His QC, Ian Winter, has told Mr Justice Eady and a London jury that the allegations were “highly defamatory and wholly false”.
Bower denies libel and says that what he wrote was substantially true and was not, in any event, defamatory.
Bower’s QC, Ronald Thwaites, has asked Desmond about the Pentagon story, which was later the subject of a settled libel action in which Desmond was a named defendant.
Desmond agreed that when his son could not get back his investment – which had grown to £75,000 – in 2008, because of problems with liquidating assets, he was upset and discussed the matter at a meeting of his fellow Northern & Shell directors.
But he has denied making any contribution to the story or that it was an example of him getting back at someone against whom he had a “grudge”.
“I did not have a grudge. My son would have liked to get his life savings back.”
Today, the jury heard a recording of a telephone conversation between Desmond and Omid, on 10 July 2008, in which Omid tried to explain why he could not repay the sum.
Desmond is heard to say: “It’s 75 grand you know, and I think fuck me, you know, we’ve done so much you know business together you know. Tens of millions of pounds. And we got you know a little, what’s the word, situation over 75 grand. The problem is it’s on my mind you see. It doesn’t matter if it was 75 grand or 75 million, it’s on my mind all the time.”
When Omid tries to explain the “reality” of the situation, Desmond says: “I understand every, I think I understand everything, but it’s on my fucking mind. And it, 75 grand, write a cheque out, we’ll sign it over to you and that’s it. That’s a wrap up our business.”
Omid: “Unfortunately this is not how it works and this is not.”
Desmond: “Please, please Jafar don’t go on because you’re going to aggravate me. So, look, just send me a cheque back, all right, or we, or we’re not going to be friends. In fact, we’re going to be enemies. OK? And you got till, what’s today, Thursday.”
Omid: “Listen, listen.”
Desmond: “No. That’s it mate. Please, because I don’t want to lose my temper with you but I’m not.”
Omid: “It’s not a case of.”
Desmond: “You know what a good friend I am Jafar, don’t you?”
Omid: “I know, this is the whole point, you’ve been so supportive in this, you’ve been.”
Desmond: “Let me tell you mate, let me tell you something, let me tell you something Jafar as good a fucking, as good as a friend I am, I am the worst fucking enemy you’ll ever have. Please get me a cheque round, thank you very much.”
As Omid says: “But you know you…”
Desmond hangs up.
Thwaites said that when Omid sent Desmond a follow-up email later that day, Desmond replied: “Jafar, there is no point in us meeting – you are out of order.”
The hearing was adjourned.