A BUSINESSMAN convicted of a €1.6m garlic scam hugged his family in court today after appeal judges set aside his six-year jail sentence, saying it should be shorter
Paul Begley, head of fruit and vegetable importers Begley Brothers Ltd, Blanchardstown, Dublin, was jailed after he admitted avoiding paying customs duty on more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic from China by having them labelled as apples.
It was the longest sentence on record for tax offences.
Import duty on garlic could be up to 232pc while other fruit and vegetables attracted rates as low as 9pc.
The father-of-three hugged his family after three judges at Dublin's Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) ruled this afternoon that his sentence should be shorter.
His wife Diane, brother Greg, son Michael and elderly mother Phyllis were among the family members in the courtroom, which was packed with supporters.
Outside the court, a family spokesman said: "We note the outcome of the case and we thank everybody for their support."
Begley (46), of Woodlock, Redgap , Rathcoole, Co Dublin, pleaded guilty to evading the duty between September 2003 and October 2007 and later came to a €1.6m settlement with Revenue.
Today, the Court of Criminal Appeal ruled the Circuit Court judge who imposed the sentence had erred in principle by overlooking or not properly valuing a number of mitigating factors pleaded on Begley's behalf.
The sentence was therefore not proportionate to both the crime and the criminal, the CCA said.
Begley remains in jail, however, until the CCA hears submissions from defence and prosecution counsel on what the sentence should be. It adjourned the matter to February 4.
The businessman, who is serving his sentence at the Training Unit in Mountjoy Prison, had also been disqualified from being a director of a company for five years.
Appeal court judge Mr Justice Liam McKechnie warned the tax evasion was a serious matter carried out with premeditation over a period of time for personal gain, so the sentence should be based on punishment and general deterrence.
However, he told the court that the mitigating factors against the lengthy sentence had been striking.
He said Begley supplied chapter and verse in the case against him, which was unprecedented.
"In effect, the book of evidence was entirely supplied by the appellant," the judge added.
He noted Begley pleaded guilty, was repaying the money and was not likely to reoffend.
"We are satisfied the sentence was excessive as to what should have been imposed and was disproportionate to the crime in its commission," the judge added.
Begley has been paying off debts of €33,000 a month.