Dairygold row over agri-sale, court hears

The High Court in Dublin has today been hearing further details about the alleged animosity of several Dairygold board members toward former CEO Jerry Henchy.

The 48-year-old businessman, from Killmallock, Co Limerick is suing the Dairygold Co-operative Society for €8m in damages for breach of contract, negligence, loss of earnings and defamation of his professional character.

Today counsel for Mr Henchy, Mr Patrick Hanratty SC told Mr Justice Daniel Herbert that Mr Henchy had made enemies from early on in his role as chief executive. At the AGM in May 2003, months after he had been appointed he made a statement on the state of the business at the time that resulted in a vote of no confidence in the board.

Another major bone of contention was the sale of Breeo Foods to Kerrygold. Mr Henchy, as CEO of Reox Holdings Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary company of Dairygold, had brokered the deal but the agreed terms were vetoed by the Dairygold board members serving on the Reox Board. The court heard that the board members refused to agree to the deal unless they were paid €5m to cover rebranding.

Mr Henchy says he argued that there would be minimal rebranding and warned the Dairygold board members that they should act in the best interests of Reox when serving on that board. The board of Reox subsequently agreed the deal including the €5m payment. Mr Henchy claims he asked Reox chairman and Dairygold board member Flor Riordan why the board had taken this position and was told “because they can”.

The sale eventually went through in 2009 after a successful challenge of a Competition Authority ruling.

Mr Henchy alleges he lost his €560k a year job as the result of a concerted campaign from several board members that culminated in the then chairman Mr Vincent Buckley demanding that he repay a €159k debt on his farming account within four days or face sanctions from the board.

Mr Hanratty told the court this week that the only sanctions considered by the board were the most severe and Mr Henchy had no prior idea there was a problem with the debt. Mr Henchy denies the amount was over the credit limit, saying no credit limit existed.

Details of this debt appeared in both the national and international press at the time. Mr Henchy maintains this information could only have come from the board of Dairygold or himself and it must have been leaked maliciously to harm his professional reputation. Dairygold deny this.

Mr Henchy claims he has been told when interviewing for senior management roles in several high-profile companies that he would need to resolve the issues with his reputation if he was to work again. He has not worked since his departure from the company in early 2009.

The court has heard Mr Henchy was paid by Reox Holdings Ltd and his services as CEO to the society was under contract from Reox. However Mr Henchy claims he was also de facto employee of Dairygold as the company controlled bonuses and set the amount of his pay.

Dairygold deny this.

The case will resume on July 23rd when Mr Henchy is expected to take the stand.

By Abigail Rieley at the High Court today 

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