Saturday 24 March 2018

Garlic tax fraudster must wait for reduction of jail term

Diane Begley, centre, wife of businessman Paul Begley with her sisters Claire. left, and Michelle
Diane Begley, centre, wife of businessman Paul Begley with her sisters Claire. left, and Michelle

Brian Kavanagh

THE fruit and vegetable importer jailed for failing to pay tax on garlic must wait to see what his reduced sentence will be.

Paul Begley (47) was originally given a six-year sentence – the longest sentence on record for tax offences – but last week the Court of Criminal Appeal set this aside.

It ruled that the trial judge had erred in principle, by overlooking or not affording appropriate weight to a number of mitigating factors in favour of the defendant.

But the appeal court decided not to give an immediate ruling and yesterday said it wants more time to consider the sentence following fresh submissions by Begley's lawyers.

Begley (46), head of fruit and vegetable importers Begley Brothers Ltd, Blanchardstown, Dublin, was jailed after he admitted avoiding paying customs duty on more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic from China by having them labelled as apples.

Import duty on garlic could be up to 232pc while other fruit and vegetables attracted rates as low as 9pc.

The appeal court heard that it appeared to be "protectionism in the very old-fashioned sense" and was aimed squarely at Chinese garlic.

Documents were filed in advance of yesterday's brief hearing detailing the "consequences" for Begley including his disqualification as a director for five years, which came as a result of his conviction.

Counsel for Begley, Patrick Gageby, said that the duty not paid on the four sample counts on the indictment was a "tiny fraction" over €85,000. The court had previously heard there was a much larger liability of €1.6m arising out of the fraud.

It was submitted that Begley had agreed on an ongoing schedule to satisfy his Revenue obligations, although only a small amount of interest and no penalties had been factored in to the final figure.

Mr Gageby told the court that three-quarters of any duty remitted would go the EU while the rest would be retained by the State to cover collection costs.

Counsel for the State Remy Farrell told the court that it could either impose a maximum sentence of five years, a €10,000 fine or a fine treble the value of the duty avoided on each count.

Presiding judge Mr Justice Liam McKechnie said the court wished to consider the matter "a little further" but would return "pretty soon" with a decision on the sentence.

In March 2012 Begley was jailed for six years by Judge Martin Nolan after pleading guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to four sample counts of evading customs duty between September 2003 and October 2007.

While the maximum sentence for the offence is five years in prison, or a fine of three times the value of the goods, Judge Nolan imposed the maximum terms on one count and a consecutive one-year sentence on another count.

Begley's lawyers had urged the appeal court to review what they submitted was the longest sentence ever passed by a court in relation to a revenue matter.

Begley's wife Diane, son Michael and elderly mother Phyllis were among the family members in the courtroom.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News