Sunday 23 October 2016

Thomas 'Slab' Murphy to be sentenced on election day

Andrew Phelan

Published 12/02/2016 | 13:25

Thomas Murphy arrives for sentencing at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin, Ireland February 12, 2016. The alleged former chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Thomas 'Slab' Murphy, attended court for sentencing on Friday, for failing to pay tax on his farm income. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Thomas Murphy arrives for sentencing at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin, Ireland February 12, 2016. The alleged former chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Thomas 'Slab' Murphy, attended court for sentencing on Friday, for failing to pay tax on his farm income. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Prominent republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy has had his sentencing for tax fraud adjourned at the Special Criminal Court.

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The three-judge-court deferred sentencing after hearing that Murphy’s outstanding bill over nine years of failing to file income tax returns was just under €190,000.

The court was also told he has not put any arrangements in place for repayment of the money.

Murphy’s lawyer asked the court to consider “the impact of a prison sentence on a man approaching 67” before arriving at a decision.

He was remanded on continuing bail for two weeks - to February 26, the day of the General Election.

Murphy (66) was convicted last December of failing to make tax returns for the years 1996 to 2004.

He had denied the charges, his defence lawyer claiming that his brother, Patrick, was in control of farming activities and was therefore liable.

The trial came nearly a decade after files were seized in sheds on his farm that straddles the Border during a raid led by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), backed up by 400 Irish and British soldiers, gardaí and the PSNI.

Murphy, from Ballybinaby, Hackballscross, Co Louth, was previously named in a libel action (that he lost) as a senior IRA commander and was described as "a good republican" by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in 2006 following the CAB raid on his farm.

Today, a detective inspector, attached to CAB, was led by Paul Burns SC, for the prosecution, through a summary of the evidence against the accused.

The detective inspector confirmed that Murphy had no previous convictions. He said Murphy had to date not made any payments in respect of his tax liability and no payment scheme or arrangement had been put in place.

The total amount due, based on a £15,000 annual income is €38,519, rising to €189,964, including interest, the court heard.

The court heard the total maximum sentence for each charge was five years’ imprisonment. Two of the counts carried a maximum fine of £10,000, and the remaining carried maximum fines of the equivalent of €126,970 each.

The detective inspector confirmed that separately, CAB had made a tax assessment against Murphy of €5,344,157.

At the request of the court, Mr Burns outlined examples of sentencing in other tax fraud cases including that of Paul Begley, who was convicted of evading tax by labelling imported garlic shipments as apples.

He said there was a wide spectrum of sentences and said it was a matter for the court. He said he would not object to any sentences imposed being made concurrent.

Murphy’s lawyer, John Kearney QC said it was “in fact an unusual case.”

He questioned the figure produced by the State as potential loss of revenue, saying: “it rather looks like it’s nowhere near the figures that have been guessed.”

He said he accepted fully the verdict of the court but asked the judges to take into account the “blurred lines and grey areas” surrounding the family unit and the farming unit or units.

Mr Kearney said €38,510 was the “baseline figure” which multiplied into the higher figure through compound punitive interest.

He said he was not being critical of this, saying “one fully understands that for the State in ensuring compliance with the tax code, punitive interest must have a use.”

He said it had been a generally loss-making business with a “trickle” of animal activity in terms of numbers entering and leaving the herds.

“This is a case where, had returns been made, it may very well have been the case where there was no profit and no tax due,” he said.

He also pointed out that the case involved failure to file returns rather than being a case where “returns are made but are deliberately misleading.”

“These are offences of omission as opposed to commission,” Mr Kearney said.

Mr Kearney said the baseline figure in this case compared to €1.6 million in the Paul Begley case.

He said the cases put before the court were “clearly much more serious” and a “suspended sentence was not out of the question.”

Mr Kearney said in other cases, there was a clear sentencing distinction depending on whether it was a case where a false return had been made or no return made at all.

On the issue of restitution not having been made, he added that there were matters which had not been finalised and “there is some money out there.”

“He is now in his mid-60s, would you consider the impact of a prison sentence on a man approaching 67 in relation to offences some of which were 20 years ago, some 10 years ago?” Mr Kearney asked the court.

He said Murphy is now working as a yardsman with a company in Crossmaglen.

Judge Butler adjourned sentencing.

When he convicted Murphy, the judge had said the court was "satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that in each of the individual counts on the indictment the accused is guilty".

During the 32-day trial, the court heard Murphy received €100,000 in State and EU subsidies and had been involved in cattle sales worth hundreds of thousands of euro at a number of marts.

The 2006 raid led to the seizure of €625,000 in cash and cheques. Following the raid a €1 million settlement was made with CAB and the UK’s Serious and Organised Crime Agency.

The trial heard evidence from Department of Agriculture employees, cattle mart and meat factory managers, Criminal Assets Bureau investigators and a Revenue Inspector that, although Murphy conducted dealings in relation to cattle and land, and received farming grants from the Department of Agriculture, he failed to make any returns to Revenue.

Murphy's defence lawyers had claimed that his brother, Patrick, was in control of the farming activities and was therefore the person chargeable to tax on income

Two witness statements were read into evidence under a Section 16 application. Section 16 of the Criminal Justice Act, 2006, allows for a witness's statement to be read into evidence if there is an inconsistency between evidence given in court and a statement given to gardaí.

Giving judgment, Judge Butler said the statements represented the "true state of affairs", which was that Murphy was involved in the farming business.

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