Wednesday 24 April 2019

Collins avoids a prison term for making false tax claims

A FORMER Fianna Fail TD has dodged a jail sentence after he was found guilty of falsely claiming to be tax compliant.

Michael Collins, of White Oak, Red House Hill, Patrickswell, Co Limerick, received a suspended 12-month prison sentence and a fine of €25,000 from Judge Carroll Moran at Limerick Circuit Criminal Court yesterday.

Judge Moran said it was his considered view that "it would be disproportionate and unjust to impose an immediate prison sentence".

Following a four-day trial last month, the former TD who represented Limerick West from 1997 to this year, was found guilty of obtaining a tax clearance certificate under the provisions of the Standards in Public Office Act, by falsely pretending to be tax compliant in 2002.

An extremely relieved looking Mr Collins made no comment when leaving the courthouse but took time to embrace family, friends and supporters before his departure.

He was accompanied by wife Una, daughters Michelle, Deirdre and son James. His nephew Niall Collins, who took over his seat in Limerick West in the last election, was making no comment on the sentence last night. Fianna Fail, which has previously stated that Mr Collins is no longer a party member, also declined to comment.

However, a Fine Gael spokesman pointed out the recent proposal from its enterprise spokesman, Leo Varadkar, that former ministers convicted of criminal offences should lose ministerial pensions. "Certainly many in the party would see that as a reasonable proposal," he said.

Passing sentence, Judge Moran said Mr Collins, who served one term as a TD, had been "severely punished" during the previous trial.

"He has been publicly humiliated and disgraced and suffered the humiliation of sitting in court. His political career is finished as a result of this and I am told he would have stood (for election) this year and would possibly have been elected," said Judge Moran, who said added that the former TD had severe health problems.

The court heard that at the time of being elected to Dail Eireann in May 2002, Mr Collins applied for a tax clearance certificate and signed a declaration that was tax compliant.

Judge Moran said this was not the case as he was the main beneficiary of a bogus non-resident account in the AIB bank in Kilmallock held under a fictitious name and address.

In May 2001, the Revenue Commissioners began a scheme of voluntary disclosure allowing holders of non-resident accounts to settle all outstanding liabilities.

The campaign was advertised nationwide and the closing date was November 15, 2001.

Like all TDs elected to Dail Eireann after the 2002 General Election, Mr Collins had to declare he was tax complaint with the Collector General in accordance with the Standards in Public Office Commission.

He duly received a tax clearance certificate and forwarded it to the Standards in Public Office Commission.

In 2003, the Revenue Commissioners wrote to Mr Collins enquiring about the AIB account and he paid a tax bill of €32,000 and €98,600 for interest and penalties.

His name appeared on the list of tax defaulters in September 2003.

The Standards in Public Commission began their own investigation and a complaint was issued to gardai in 2005 with charges subsequently brought before Mr Collins.

Before Mr Collins was sentenced, Judge Moran heard from the defendant's GP, Michael Cleary.

Dr Cleary gave evidence that Mr Collins contracted diabetes following surgery on his prostate in the US. Dr Cleary said Mr Collins suffered from hypertension, diabetes and acute anxiety.

He warned the court that if Mr Collins was jailed, he was seriously at risk of suffering a stroke triggered by his anxiety and diabetes.

The judge said Mr Collins was a member of the Dail Eireann which makes tax laws for the people of Ireland and he violated these same laws.

"The charge here is not a revenue offence. It relates to dishonestly obtaining a tax clearance certificate," said Judge Moran.

The judge said it was the view of Det Sgt Declan Daly that Mr Collins would never commit another offence and he was described by political opponent and the former Mayor of Limerick, Gus O'Driscoll, as an "honourable man".

He also said it was a credit to the 66-year-old that he had never been in trouble before.

Mr Collins was refused leave to appeal the sentence.

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