Monday 27 February 2017

No point in sending tax-offence dad to jail, says judge

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

A JUDGE said she could see "no point whatsoever" in sending a father-of-two to jail after he failed to pay VAT on €1.4m worth of sales.

Freelance photographer Niall Williamson (49) yesterday escaped a prison sentence despite making no attempts to repay a €332,000 debt owed to Revenue.

A jury found him guilty of 85 charges relating to tax offences between 1998 and 2004. Each of the majority of these charges carry a substantial fine and/or up to five years in prison.

A Revenue official told Kilkenny Circuit Court yesterday that Williamson's management of his finances was "beyond" chaotic.

The court heard he was "deliberate" in avoiding the taxman -- however Judge Olive Buttimer decided not to put the man behind bars. Instead, she told Williamson to teach photography in a voluntary capacity "to the less privileged".

Williamson told the Irish Independent he was "very happy" with the decision.

Earlier, his defence counsel pleaded with the court not to send Williamson to jail. He wanted to attend his daughter's wedding in the near future and his son was a 19-year-old full-time student.

Penalties

The court was told Williamson, of The Old Schoolhouse, Dunkit, Co Kilkenny, owed Revenue €332,000 in VAT and penalties. He had a previous conviction for failing to submit income tax returns in 2002 and 2003.

The court heard the photographer was no longer self-employed and was now working for a company on a salary of €20,000 per annum plus 20pc commission on sales. The court heard he made €3,000 commission in the past six months.

"His ability to repay is very limited," Alan Toal SC said. He also said the matter had been hanging over his client for years and he was "greatly troubled" by the case.

The court heard Williamson would not be able to raise sufficient equity from his home as its value was "significantly eroded". He was trying to meet mortgage repayments of €1,300 per month and support his son through college.

"I see no point whatsoever in sending you to prison," Judge Buttimer said to the defendant.

However, she asked Williamson "to impart" his photography skills to the less-well off.

Among the charges, Williams was found guilty of filing incorrect VAT returns for periods between 1998 to 2002, claiming VAT which he knew he wasn't entitled and failing to pay VAT on sales for periods from 1997 to 2004.

The charges were taken under Section 1078 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997.

Irish Independent

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