‘Garlic man’ Begley will be out of jail by October
TAX cheat Paul Begley will be freed from jail in less than seven months after his record six-year sentence over a €1.6m garlic import duty scam was cut.
There were emotional scenes in court as the jailed businessman was told he must serve two years in prison, back-dated to March 9 last year.
The 47-year-old father is due to be freed in September, with remission.
Begley kissed his wife Diane and hugged his family and friends as the ruling was delivered by three judges at Dublin's Court of Criminal Appeal.
The court previously ruled his sentence - the longest handed down for tax fraud of its kind - was excessive and disproportionate given his co-operation with investigators and guilty plea.
But Judge Liam McKechnie today warned the charges were serious, carefully planned and involved premeditated acts of deception executed over a prolonged period for personal gain.
"By reason of these circumstances and in order to reflect the gravity of the offences in question, the circumstances of their commission but crediting the appellant with due and apposite weight for the very significant mitigating features, this court is of the view that the appropriate sentence should be two years," he said.
Dressed in a pin-stripe suit, Begley had chatted at ease with Sean Quinn Junior in a corridor outside the courtroom before the brief hearing.
The pair served time together in Mountjoy's training unit, where Quinn was jailed for contempt of court last summer.
Quinn and his brother-in-law Niall McPartland - who were both in the Four Courts for a separate case - had also met members of the Begley family in the coffee shop complex ahead of the hearing.
After the hearing Begley, of Rathcoole, Co Dublin, spent about ten minutes with family and friends before being led away by prison officers to go back to Mountjoy.
A family spokesman said they welcomed the decision.
"They are very grateful for all the messages of support and prayers they have received over the last few months," he said.
The importer had been jailed for tax evasion after he admitted recording more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic imported from China as apples, which have a cheaper tax rate. The charges date from September 2003 and October 2007.
He had been head of Ireland's largest fruit and vegetable company, Begley Brothers Ltd, when he avoided paying a higher excise of up to 232pc, compared to other fruit and vegetables which have rates as low as 9pc.
The judges said that despite the great disparity on duty paid between garlic and other comparable foods, the court had no role commenting on, or accounting for, the fairness or unfairness of the tax system.
Begley had been paying off the Revenue Commissioners €33,000 a month when jailed. He still owes €700,000 and is also disqualified from being a director of a firm for five years.
While his conviction centred on a sample four charges of avoiding tax totalling just over €85,000, the trial judge was told the total fraud was about €1.6m.
The maximum sentence for each count was five years in prison, or a €10,000 fine, or treble the amount of the duty avoided, whichever was the largest sum.
The sentencing judge controversially jailed him for five years on one count and one year on another, to run consecutively.
Begley's legal team appealed the sentence on grounds that the judge did not consider all the mitigating factors.