Saturday 1 October 2016

'Solicitor tried to defraud Revenue by underpaying €147,000 stamp duty because client persuaded him to,' High Court hears

Tim Healy

Published 20/07/2015 | 16:38

Mr O'Neill had been practising for 36 years and had had a virtually unblemished record, counsel said.
Mr O'Neill had been practising for 36 years and had had a virtually unblemished record, counsel said.

A SOLICITOR tried to defraud Revenue by underpaying €147,000 stamp duty due on a property transaction because a client persuaded him to do so, the High Court heard.

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It was not the first time Raymond St John O'Neill (61), of Raymond St J O'Neill & Co, Washington Street, Cork, had done this and had only just promised a Law Society Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) it would not happen again, the court also heard.

However, within a few months, he did it again when another client persuaded him to update a property deed - effectively cutting the stamp duty tax bill by €147,000, the court was told.

He had previously allowed underpayments for clients, for smaller sums, in a number of other stamp duty cases but genuinely believed he was entitled to do so on the basis he was applying the date on which the property deeds became available, his lawyer told the court.

Mr O'Neill was ordered to only practice under the supervision of a solicitor of ten years standing after High Court president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns declined a Law Society recommendation that he be struck off  following a plea in mitigation from Mr O'Neill's counsel.

Earlier, Paul Anthony McDermott BL, for the Society, said while the SDT had recommended that he be penalised by being required to work under another solicitor, the Society itself wanted him struck off for reasons including his previous promise not to allow it happen again.

Even if a client tries to persuade a solicitor to defraud the Revenue, it is not sufficient for the lawyer to say a client asked him to do it and it may be reported to the gardai, he said. 

Counsel said while Mr O'Neill had references as to good character from lawyers like Ernest Cantillon, Barry Galvin and Willis Walsh SC, the Society's view was that this would be a different case had the same thing not happened a second time just after a promise had been given not to do it again.

A barrister for Mr O'Neill asked the court to take into account a number of mitigating factors including that had the solicitor not admitted to the first misapplication of stamp duty funds to the SDT, he "might have got away with it". The SDT had said it was to his credit that he had done so.

The  €147,000 due to Revenue, as a result of him doing it a second time, would come from the sale, for €600,000, of a large piece of land by the client involved, counsel said.

Mr O'Neill had been practising for 36 years and had had a virtually unblemished record, counsel said.

Mr Justice Kearns said accepted the recommendation of the SDT that Mr O'Neill only work as a solicitor under a restricted practising certificate.   He refused an application to adjourn the order to October so that Mr O'Neill could undergo a knee operation in the next few months.

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