BUSINESSMAN Paul Begley will likely walk free from prison within six months, after his record sentence for a €1.6m garlic import duty scam was slashed to two years.
His delighted family embraced and kissed the fruit and vegetable importer after his six-year sentence – the longest on record for tax offences – was reduced on appeal.
The beaming former head of Begley Brothers hugged his mother Phyllis and son Michael (18) and kissed his wife Diane after the three-judge Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) weighed up both the "gravity" of the offences and the significant mitigating factors to hand down an "appropriate" sentence of two years.
"The family are very grateful for all the messages of support and prayers they have received over the last few months," said a spokesman for the publicity-shy Begley family. "They would like to thank their legal team and thank everyone for their support. They welcome the judgment."
After spending 10 minutes speaking with family and supporters outside the courtroom, the businessman was led away by prison officers for the return journey to the Mountjoy Prison training unit.
As his sentence was backdated to last March, it is likely Begley will be released within six months, with remission for good behaviour.
Before entering the court, Begley (47) had also shared a word with Sean Quinn Jnr, who was also in the Four Courts complex in Dublin for a separate case.
Begley, from Woodlock, Redgap, Rathcoole, Co Dublin, had admitted avoiding customs duty between 2003 and 2007 on more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic imported from China by disguising them as apples, which had a cheaper tax rate.
Import duty on garlic could be up to 232pc while other fruit and vegetables attracted rates as low as 9pc.
The married father of three was successful in his appeal to the CCA which set aside the judge's record six-year sentence.
The court, led by Supreme Court Judge Mr Justice Liam McKechnie, yesterday found there was no doubt that the charges were "serious" and had been a "significant infringement of the criminal law". They had been carefully planned involving in-depth sophistication, and took place over a lengthy period.
Mr Justice McKechnie said the actions involved "premeditated acts of deception" and "general deterrence" was required to show the results of this type of action.
But a number of mitigating factors were highlighted including Begley's co-operation and his identification of documents which effectively made up the State's book of evidence against the importer.
The judge also acknowledged the businessman's agreement with Revenue to repay the €1.6m estimated in tax owed, before the criminal charges were lodged against him. It was pointed out the value of goods over which Begley pleaded guilty amounted to €86,000.
Mr Begley resigned as a director of the family business at the centre of the case in January 2012. Both he and his brother were the significant shareholders in the firm, which employs 59 people, and pays out €1.5m in wages each year.
According to the latest accounts for 2011, the fruit and vegetable produce firm was busy with a turnover of €26m. Yet, while it recorded an operating profit of €271,000, the books show it was in the red in 2010.