Sunday 18 March 2018

'Garlic man' Begley released early from prison

Paul Begley leaving court last month
Paul Begley leaving court last month

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

A DUBLIN businessman jailed over a €1.6 million garlic import duty scam has been granted temporary release from prison.

Paul Begley was jailed for six years after admitting labelling more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic imported from China as apples, which have a lower tax rate.


Last January the Court of Criminal Appeal reduced his sentence to two years after the three judge court ruled that the landmark Revenue sentence was not proportionate to both the crime and the criminal.


Mr Begley has been granted temporary release under a community return scheme, introduced two years ago, that allows low risk prisoners to exchange the final part of their sentence by participating in comunity services projects.


Mr Begley was released from the training unit at Mountjoy Prison today on a temporary basis and is technically still serving his sentence under the supervision of the Probation Service.


He will reside at his home or at a specific address approved as part of his temporary release terms and may be returned if there are any breaches of the conditions of his release.


Mr Begley, head of fruit and vegetable importers Begley Brothers Ltd,  Blanchardstown, Dublin, was jailed in March 2011 after he admitted avoiding customs duty on more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic from China by having them labelled as apples.


Import duty on apples at the time of the offences was nine per cent while garlic was 9.6 per cent plus €120 per 100 kg - amounting to an effective tax rate of upto 232 per cent.


Mr Begley (47), of Woodlock , Redgap , Rathcoole, Co Dublin, pleaded guilty in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to evading the duty between September 2003 and October 2007 and later came to an agreement with Revenue to repay €1.6m in estimated evaded duty.


The tax fraud scheme was uncovered in 2007 when a Revenue officer at Dublin Port examined a container imported from China which should have contained 18 tonnes of apples and two tonnes of garlic but which consisted purely of garlic.


It led to an investigation which showed the evasion had been going on for a number of years and huge savings had been made by labelling the garlic as apples.  Mr Begley accepted responsibility and fully co-operated.


Judge Martin Nolan sentenced him to the maximum of five years on one of four counts of evasion and to one year consecutive on another count as well as disqualifying him from acting as a director of a company for five years.


Judge Nolan said what Begley did was grave and he was imposing a sentence based on the principles of punishment and deterrence to others who may attempt similar schemes.


Mr Begley appealed, arguing the trial judge ignored the fact he had made restitution and given a maximum sentence, normally be reserved for the worst cases.  The DPP argued the sentence was justified and should stand.


The CCA ruled Judge Nolan had erred in principle by overlooking, or not properly valuing, a number of mitigating factors pleaded on Mr Begley's behalf.


The sentence was therefore not proportionate to both the crime and the criminal, the CCA said.


Mr Justice William McKechnie, on behalf of the three-judge CCA, said it has always been considered that restitution and ancillary punishments such as payment of interest and penalties in tax arrears cases is a material factor for mitigation.


In this case, Mr Begley had agreed to repay the €1.6m of evaded duty, under a schedule due to be completed next November and all payments have been promptly made, he said.


Consequently, the State will not suffer any financial loss as a result of the offences and while payment of that amount would not leave Mr Begley destitute, it was nonetheless a significant sum, he said.


It had been accepted there was genuine remorse by Mr Begley and and "impressive list" of testimonials on his behalf had been handed in, including one from a direct competitor, he said.


He had no previous convictions, is totally rehabilitated and unlikely to ever re-offend, he said.


While such factors were not uncommon in tax fraud cases and therefore giving someone credit for it may not be as high as in other cases, it goes without saying that these matters "cannot be simply stood down or ignored," he said.


In view of this, it was not open to Judge Nolan to impose the sentence he did, Mr Justice McKechnie said.

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