Defendant 'told he could sell photos VAT free'
A PHOTOGRAPHER accused of failing to pay VAT on €1.4m of sales yesterday told a court he was advised by the tax office that his sales were VAT-free.
Niall Williamson of The Old Schoolhouse, Dunkit, Co Kilkenny, has pleaded not guilty to 115 charges relating to alleged VAT offences between 1998 and 2004.
Kilkenny Circuit Court, heard that Mr Williamson worked as a freelance photographer, taking photos of tourists at the Waterford Crystal visitors' centre and selling them.
In his evidence yesterday, Niall Williamson said that when he worked at the visitors' centre, tourists would end their tour in the master craftsman's area.
They would then buy photographs of themselves, with the crystal, from Niall Williamson.
He spent about €60,000-- €65,000 establishing the business, he said, with €30,000-- €35,000 of that going on equipment bought with cash.
The money he took in was collected twice daily by Waterford Crystal staff. It was returned to him minus a commission every two weeks.
He said he was told by the tourist board's outlet in the crystal factory that anything bought there was VAT-free as tourists could reclaim the tax when they left the country at Dublin Airport or Shannon Airport.
He contacted the tax office in Waterford, he said, after setting up his business and spoke to official John McMahon.
"I was entitled to claim back the VAT on my purchases and I didn't have to charge VAT on my sales," the accused said.
Mr Williamson said a "judgment mortgage" had been registered against his family home following a Revenue audit into his affairs in February 2003.
Pat Treacy, for the State, asked Mr Williamson if he had applied to Waterford City Council for planning permission to construct 17 houses in Waterford city on February 26, 2003.
Mr Williamson said his name was used in place of his friend Sean Johnson, a "property developer", who would pay him a fee if it went through.
He told the court his name was used on two other applications, one of which was for a business park that was developed, but that he did not own any of the properties.
He told Mr Treacy he was unaware he was not entitled to make a planning application in his name for a property of which he was not the owner.
The court has heard that VAT returns from the accused, which showed sales VAT as 'nil', should have amounted to €157,909. The trial continues.