Tax cheat Thomas 'Slab' Murphy sentenced to 18 months in jail
Thomas 'Slab' Murphy, the alleged former chief of the Provisional IRA, has received a 18 month jail sentence for a €190,000 tax fraud at the Special Criminal Court.
None of the jail term was suspended and he received no fines.
Mr Murphy was sentenced following an 11th hour legal submission moved by Mr Murphy's lawyer John Kearney QC arising from a Court of Criminal Appeal ruling involving Perry Wharrie, an Englishman jailed for his role in the largest drug seizure in the history of the State.
The Wharrie ruling was issued on February 15th last, after Mr Murphy's sentence hearing but before the Special Criminal Court handed down today's 18 month sentence to the bachelor farmer.
Mr Justice Paul Butler, presiding judge of the Special Criminal Court, said the submissions, which the court had received in advance of today's sentence, "made no difference" to its consideration of the sentence.
Mr Murphy (66) was convicted last December following a 32 day trial at the non jury court which Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and his party says should be abolished.
Mr Murphy, described as a "good republican" by Mr Adams, had denied the charges.
Mr Murphy, who had no previous convictions, was found guilty of nine charges of failing to furnish a return in his income, profits or gains, or the source of his income, profits or gains to the Collector General or the Inspector of Taxes for the years 1996/97 to 2004.
This morning, many supporters attended the Special Criminal Court which was also attended by a large number of gardai involved in the investigation which led to Mr Murphy's conviction.
At his sentence hearing earlier this month, the three judge court was told that Mr Murphy owes the Revenue almost €190,000 in unpaid taxes for his farming business at Ballybinaby, Hackballscross, County Louth, which straddles the border with Northern Ireland.
The court also heard that Murphy now works as a yards man for a company in Crossmaglen, where as a PAYE employee he earns £1,055 per month.
Mairia Cahill, who was a victim of sex abuse by an IRA member, welcomed the jail sentence.
“Justice has finally caught up with this notorious individual.
“For many years there have been substantial allegations that he is at the heart of republican activity - criminal and otherwise - in South Armagh.
“These allegations include matters far worse than tax evasion,” the Labour Party senator said.
“Despite this, he has been repeatedly defended as 'a good republican' and a 'typical rural man' by Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald over recent weeks and months.
“This is a further indication of how they put themselves and their friends first before victims and the rule of law.”
The landmark prosecution of the tax case in the Special Criminal Court, which normally hears terrorism and 'gangland' related cases, stemmed from a Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) raid of the Murphy farm complex at Ballybinaby in 2006.
A CAB officer told the court that during a search of a cattle shed, investigators seized a large volume of documents and ledgers, cash worth €256,235 and stg£111,185, as well as uncashed cheques worth €579,000, stg£80,000 and ir£24,000.
The documents and ledgers related to cattle trade conducted by Murphy, the officer told prosecutor Paul Burns SC, and the entries in the ledgers did not follow normal accountancy procedures.
The documentation also included records from Murphy’s bank account and an Irish Life pension policy, as well as records of payments made by Department of Agriculture to Murphy worth more than €100,000.
The officer told the court that the Cab's assessment of Murphy’s tax bill is worth some €5.34 million, and that from farming income, the issue for which Murphy was tried before the court, he owes €189,964.
The estimated loss to Revenue is based on the “notional figure” of €15,000 per year profit from Murphy’s farming business, the court heard.
A witness statement law introduced in 2006 in response to the collapse of a number of Limerick 'gangland' trials proved critical in the prosecution against Slab Murphy.
Prosecutor Paul Burns SC moved two applications pursuant to Section 16 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 during the trial after highlighting "inconsistencies" between two witnesses' evidence and statements given earlier to gardai.
Brian Garvey, a landowner who rented land to Slab Murphy, originally told the CAB that he spoke to Slab in relation to farming matters and the rent of land the day before he made his 2005 statement.
At that time, Mr Garvey told the CAB that apart from €5,000 given to him by Slab's nephew, all of the other money was given to him by Slab.
However at the trial, the Co Meath farmer said he couldn't remember Slab ever handing him money, prompting a legal row that resulted in Mr Garvey's original statement being admitted into evidence.
The original witness statement of veterinary surgeon Patrick Flanagan was also subject to a Section 16 application. Mr Flanagan initially told gardai said that he witnessed the signing by the three Murphy brothers, including Slab, of Department of Agriculture forms.
However at the trial, Mr Flanagan said he couldn't recollect anyone specific signing the forms.The prosecution argued that this was a crucial piece of evidence.
In its judgment of December 17th last, finding Mr Murphy guilty in all nine counts, the Special Criminal Court said that it was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the Section 16 evidence "represents the true state of affairs, namely that Thomas Murphy was carrying on a cattle farming and dealing business".
The court heard of 10 previous cases involving similar offences, including that of Paul Begley, the Dublin businessman who was jailed for a €1.6 million fraud involving the importation of garlic from China.
Mr Burns said that mitigating circumstances in these previous cases involved restitution, admission of guilt, expression of remorse, absence of previous convictions and the identification of documents by the accused that might never have otherwise surfaced.
There has been no restitution in Murphy’s case, the court heard.
Mr Burns also provided the court with a representative sample of sentences imposed for the type of charge of which Murphy is convicted.
John Kearney QC, for Murphy, argued at Mr Murphy's sentence hearing that this was "an unusual case”.
Mr Kearney said that there are “blurred lines and grey areas surrounding the farming unit, the family unit”.
During the trial, Murphy claimed that his brother, Patrick, was in control of the farming activities and was therefore the chargeable person.
A chargeable person is a person who is chargeable to tax on income.
Mr Kearney said that there is “a clear distinction” between the Cab's assessment of Murphy’s tax bill, which “runs into the millions”, and the money owed from Murphy’s farming business.
The Cab's notice of assessment, he said, is being pursued on the civil side and is “another day’s work”.
Mr Murphy had earlier lost a Supreme Court challenge to prevent his trial proceeding at the Special Criminal Court.
In its ruling denying him a jury trial, the Supreme Court said that it was "highly likely" that the reason why the DPP considered the ordinary courts inadequate "must relate to the connections of Mr Murphy with organisations which are prepared to interfere with the administration of justice".
In 1998, Murphy lost a £1 million libel action against the Sunday Times which described him as a senior IRA figure.
In one of only two occasions when he has spoken publicly, he claimed he had to sell a home in order to pay for some of the cost of the failed lawsuit.
Murphy's trial heard his total tax bill for the nine years was €38,519.56, and interest built up on those unpaid bills was €151,445.10, taking the final amount owed to €189,964.66.
He was charged with five counts under the Republic's Taxes Consolidation Act and four under the Finance Act that he knowingly and wilfully failed to make tax returns and did so without reasonable excuses.
The court found he did not furnish the authorities with a return of income, profits or gains or the sources of them over the period but received €100,000 in farm grants and paid out €300,000 to rent land.