€1.6m garlic scam businessman gets out of jail on early release scheme
A Dublin businessman jailed over a €1.6m garlic import duty scam has been granted temporary release from prison.
Paul Begley was jailed for six years after admitting labelling more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic imported from China as apples, which have a lower tax rate.
Last January the Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) reduced his sentence to two years after the three-judge court ruled that the landmark Revenue sentence was not proportionate to both the crime and the criminal.
Begley has been granted temporary release under a community return scheme, introduced two years ago, that allows low-risk prisoners to exchange the final part of their sentence by participating in community services projects.
Begley was released from the training unit at Mountjoy Prison yesterday on a temporary basis and is technically still serving his sentence under the supervision of the Probation Service.
He will live at his home or at a specific address approved as part of his temporary release terms and may be returned if there are any breaches of the conditions of his release.
Begley, head of fruit and vegetable importers Begley Brothers Ltd, Blanchardstown, Dublin, was jailed last March after he admitted avoiding customs duty on more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic from China by having them labelled as apples.
Import duty on apples at the time of the offences was 9pc while garlic was 9.6pc plus €120 per 100kg – amounting to an effective tax rate of up to 232pc.
Begley (47), of Woodlock, Redgap , Rathcoole, Co Dublin, pleaded guilty in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to evading the duty between September 2003 and October 2007 and later came to an agreement with Revenue to repay €1.6m in estimated evaded duty.
The tax fraud scheme was uncovered in 2007 when a Revenue officer at Dublin Port examined a container imported from China which should have contained 18 tonnes of apples and two tonnes of garlic but which consisted purely of garlic.
It led to an investigation which showed the evasion had been going on for a number of years and huge savings had been made by labelling the garlic as apples. Begley accepted responsibility and fully co-operated.
Judge Martin Nolan sentenced him to the maximum of five years on one of four counts of evasion and to one year consecutive on another count, as well as disqualifying him from acting as a director of a company for five years.
Begley appealed, arguing the trial judge ignored that he had made restitution and was given a maximum sentence, normally reserved for the worst cases.
The CCA ruled Judge Nolan had erred in principle by overlooking, or not properly valuing, a number of mitigating factors pleaded on Begley's behalf.
In this case, Begley had agreed to repay the €1.6m of evaded duty and consequently the State will not suffer any financial loss as a result of the offences.
It had been accepted there was genuine remorse by Begley and an "impressive list" of testimonials on his behalf had been handed in, including one from a direct competitor, Mr Justice William McKechnie, on behalf of the CCA, said.
He had no previous convictions, was totally rehabilitated and unlikely to ever re-offend, he said. In view of this, it was not open to Judge Nolan to impose the sentence he did, Mr Justice McKechnie said.