Sunday 18 February 2018

Financial sector seemed immune to spell in prison - not anymore

Carol Hawkins, the former PA and housekeeper of U2’s Adam Clayton, was jailed for seven years after stealing €2.8m from the musician
Carol Hawkins, the former PA and housekeeper of U2’s Adam Clayton, was jailed for seven years after stealing €2.8m from the musician
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

We've waited a long time for it, I suppose, for the spectre of a banker going to jail. There has been a seemingly endless line of dodgy solicitors and the Government never tires of telling us how many recipients of social welfare they've successfully hauled through the courts.

But the financial sector seemed immune: not anymore.

Last night, three former Anglo Irish Bank staff spent their first night in jail after being convicted of trying to hide accounts connected to the bank's former chairman Sean FitzPatrick from the Revenue Commissioners.

A practice has grown up over time where many people who are convicted - of any range of offences and from all walks of life - are remanded on bail pending their sentence.

But not the Anglo Three.

Former Anglo Assistant Manager Aoife Maguire almost collapsed when trial Judge Patrick McCartan refused bail. Like something out of a movie based on a John Grisham novel, two rows of lawyers jumped to their feet simultaneously in protest.

But Judge McCartan was not for turning, explaining that custody is a consequence of conviction.

For their part, Tiarnan O'Mahoney and Bernard Daly, Anglo's former Chief Operating Officer and Company Secretary respectively, face up to five years in jail, a hefty fine - or both. All three were convicted of conspiracy charges and it will be up to Judge McCartan to determine what penalties these charges attract.

This is because conspiracy is a common law offence. The penalties are not laid down in statute so, in principle, they are limitless.

Judge McCartan will largely be 'at large' to determine these inherently indeterminate sentences. But he has plenty of guidance from recent case law to help guide him through this white-collar sentencing terrain.

At its simplest level, the three have been convicted of tax and company law-related offences - in short they stood accused of attempting to defraud the taxman.

The courts have breathed heavily down the neck of company law and tax offenders in recent years.

In the past, it may have been perceived that custodial sentences were the exception rather than the norm for financial crimes. Now, however, the opposite tends to hold more force.

Four years ago a man who lived in Thailand and travelled back to Ireland to commit social welfare fraud claimed €248,000 under nine different names over 30 years was jailed for 12 and a half years.

Paul Murray appealed against the severity of his sentence.

The Court of Appeal reduced the sentence (to nine years with the final year suspended), but not before now retired Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan observed that offences involving public revenue are not victimless crimes, as they strike at the heart of equity, equal treatment and social solidarity.

"This is especially so at a time of emergency so far as the public finances are concerned," said Judge Finnegan ominously.

'Garlic Man' Paul Begley was released from jail two years ago after initially receiving a six-year jail term for a €1.6m garlic import duty scam. The sentence was reduced to two years on appeal.

There was Carol Hawkins, jailed for seven years after stealing €2.8m from U2's Adam Clayton. And remember Heather Perrin? She was the judge (and former solicitor) jailed for two-and a half years for deceiving an elderly client out of half of his €1m estate.

Sentences must be proportionate to both the crime and the criminal.

But the pattern emerging is clear: financial crimes will attract custodial terms in the right circumstances.

As they were led to jail yesterday evening, the fact that they were refused bail must have weighed heavily on the minds of Tiarnan O'Mahoney, Bernard Daly and Aoife Maguire.

Irish Independent

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