Garlic fraudster faces anxious wait in appeal over prison term
THE BUSINESSMAN serving the longest sentence on record for tax offences – over a €1.6m garlic import duty scam – faces an anxious wait to find out if his six-year jail term will be reduced.
Paul Begley, the head of Begley Brothers Ltd, Ireland's largest fruit and vegetable producers, was jailed for six years last March after he admitted avoiding paying higher custom duty.
It related to more than a thousand tonnes of garlic imported from China that was labelled as apples, which have a cheaper tax rate.
The married father of three appealed the severity of his sentence to the Court of Criminal Appeal, which yesterday reserved judgment in the high-profile case.
The three-judge CCA, led by Supreme Court Judge Mr Justice Liam McKechnie, heard that Begley had been "the architect" in the prosecution against him as a result of his co-operation with Revenue.
Mr Begley's lawyers argued that the trial judge who sentenced him had erred in principle because he did not take into account Begley's guilty plea – as well as the fact that he was making repayments to the Revenue.
But the Director of Public Prosecutions, who opposed the appeal, argued that the €1.6m was at the very highest end of the scale for this type of offence.
"It was committed for no reason other than greed and posed a competitive disadvantage to others," said senior counsel Remy Farrell, for the DPP.
Begley, who is serving his sentence at the training unit in Dublin's Mountjoy Prison, was present in court for the two-hour appeal. Before being returned to custody, Begley shook hands with a son and kissed him on the cheek.
His family, who have engaged the assistance of a leading public relations consultant to deal with widespread interest in the case, did not speak to reporters as they left the Criminal Courts of Justice.
Moving the appeal, Patrick Gageby SC, for Begley, said his client had fully co-operated with a Revenue investigation and had provided all the documents that formed the case against him.
Begley had pleaded guilty to four sample counts of evading Customs duty between September 2003 and October 2007.
The value of the scam based on the four sample counts was just under €300,000 – although the judge was informed of a much larger liability of €1.6m arising out of the fraud.
Mr Gageby argued that there was an obligation to sentence only on the counts on the indictment. He argued that the court could not take the other matters into account.
Trial judge Martin Nolan imposed the maximum term on one count and one year on another count. These are to run consecutively, giving a total of six years.
Mr Gageby said Begley's reparation payments to Revenue were "highly relevant" and added that his guilty plea had not been mentioned by the judge.
Mr Gageby said that Begley accepted the fact that his sentence had been designed to both punish him and deter others.
But he said very severe punishments for those who co-operated with Revenue could have a chilling effect on others.
"This is a case in which the Revenue were being paid and there was very substantial co-operation," said Mr Gageby.
This is not a case in which the evasion was part of other illegal transactions, he said, adding that Begley had no previous convictions.
Mr Gageby said that it was beyond doubt that Begley was helpful to the Revenue and was the "architect of the prosecution against him" having co-operated with the authorities.
During Begley's trial, the Circuit Criminal Court heard that the import tax on garlic is high and can reach 232pc, while other fruit and vegetable have rates as low as 9pc.