Monday 20 May 2019

‘It has been a very traumatic time for me – Independent TD Michael Lowry after €15k fine over incorrect tax return

Guilty on two charges of filing incorrect corporate tax return and failing to keep proper accounts

Independent TD Michael Lowry. Photo: Collins Courts
Independent TD Michael Lowry. Photo: Collins Courts Newsdesk and Sonya McLean

Independent TD Michael Lowry has spoken of his ‘trauma’ after he and his refrigeration company were been fined a total of €25,000 having been convicted earlier today of two charges each of delivering an incorrect corporation tax return and failing to keep proper set of accounts.

Judge Martin Nolan made his ruling following a sentence hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court after a verdict was delivered by the jury on day 12 of the trial just before lunchtime today.

The judge referred to Lowry as a “conscientious tax payer” having accepted evidence that he previously “put his hand in his pocket” to settle a separate €1.4 million tax bill dating back to 1997.

Judge Nolan accepted that the politician had no previous convictions, was a good employer and a very good public representative.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating. He has been re-elected,” the judge said.

Speaking outside the court to RTÉ Deputy Lowry hailed the ‘fantastic result’.

"I came into this building a free man and I leave this building a free man," Mr Lowry told reporters outside the court. 

"I'm thrilled for my family, my relatives, for my staff and for the people of Tipperary who have been so loyal and steadfast in their support for me during 22 years of absolute turmoil, so for me today is the beginning of the end." 

"It has been a fantastic result and to hear the judge saying, 'I'm a conscientious taxpayer and that I'm good public representative, that I'm a good employer and that I saved my company by remortgaging my house when It was in difficulty' what more can I ask for?"

"It has been a very traumatic time for me, I've been pilloried, I've been vilified, at times it was humiliating but this today is the culmination of 22 years of investigation, of enquiries. I've had six different investigations and enquiries. It has been non-stop for 22 years, so I now look forward to getting back to my people in Tipperary and to enjoy the fact that I'm no longer under investigation and that the end has arrived."

"There were times that I thought that it would never come to a conclusion. And to those that have been writing about me and speculating about me – I think you have to acknowledge that today for me personally is a huge day in my life."

"Nobody understands unless you're in the position, if you're being harassed, chased and hounded by various institutions of the state, it's only when you're in that position and fortunately I had the strength, courage and conviction and the reason I had was very simple – I knew in my heart and in my head that I didn't do the kind of wrongness that was being portrayed." 

Earlier, Judge Nolan noted that the maximum sentence available to the court was a five year term but said he didn't think a custodial sentence was appropriate in the case.

He fined Mr Lowry €15,000 personally and Garuda €10,000. He also disqualified Lowry as acting as a director of the company for three years.

“He seems to have rescued his company. If he had not put in a substantial cash infusion into the company it would not be operating at present,” Judge Nolan said. He was referring to evidence that Lowry re-mortgaged his home to pay the €1.4 million tax bill.

Finally Judge Nolan remarked, “This is to Mr Lowry's credit. I would not like to fall on the wrong side of Mr Oliver”. Henry Oliver is the tax inspector who was responsible for bringing the case forward for criminal investigation.

The jury of three women and eight men returned the verdicts following just over eight and half hours deliberation.

The jury were unable to reach a decision on four remaining charges before them. The State is not proceeding with these charges.

It was the State's case that Mr Lowry's company, Garuda Ltd, trading as Streamline Enterprises received Stg £248,624 (€372,000) in commission from Norpe OY, a refrigeration company based in Finland, in August 2002.

It was alleged that Mr Lowry arranged for this payment to be made to a third party, Kevin Phelan through the Glebe Trust based in the Isle of Man, and therefore it didn't appear in the company accounts for that year.

It is further alleged that the accounts were then falsified in 2007 to reflect that the payment was received in 2006.

Mr Lowry (64) of Glenreigh, Holycross, Co. Tipperary, had pleaded not guilty to four charges of filing incorrect tax returns on dates between August 2002 and August 2007 in relation to a sum of Stg £248,624 received by his company, Garuda Ltd and one charge in relation to failing to keep a proper set of accounts on dates between 28 August, 2002 and August 3, 2007.

He further pleaded not guilty on behalf of Garuda Ltd to three similar charges in relation to the company's tax affairs and one charge of failing to keep a proper set of accounts on the same dates.

Last week Judge Nolan told the jury that a charge of delivering an incorrect tax return for 2002 had been withdrawn.

The charges against Mr Lowry outlined that the offences were committed with the consent or connivance of Michael Lowry who was at the time a director, manager, secretary or other officer of Garuda Ltd.

Both Mr Lowry and Garuda were charged with knowingly or willingly delivering to the Inspector of Taxes of the Thurles District incorrect accounts in connection with corporation tax for year ending 31 December 2002 and delivering incorrect information in connection with the corporation tax for year ending 31 December 2002, to wit an incorrect corporation tax computation.

The politician and his company were also both charged with delivering an incorrect return in connection with corporation tax for year ending 31 December, 2006 and that between August 28, 2002 and August 3, 2007, Garuda Ltd failed to keep proper books of accounts within the meaning of Section 202 of the Companies Act 1990 insofar as the said books did not correctly record and explain the transactions of the company.

The prosecution's key witness, Henry Oliver, in the investigation unit of Revenue, told the jury that he had looked into the €372,000 payment in in August 2013 and assessed it as an emolument (a wage or salary) earned by Mr Lowry.

He said he determined Mr Lowry owed income tax on the figure and Garuda owed PAYE and PRSI on the sum. He assessed the total owed to Revenue, including penalties and fine, as being €1.1 million.

Mr Lowry's defence team did not accept that the €372,000 constituted an income, but rather said the money was owed to the company as commission from Norpe.

The jury heard that both Michael Lowry and Garuda Ltd successfully challenged the Revenue assessment before the appeals commission in April 2015. The assessment was reduced to nil, meaning that neither Mr Lowry nor Garuda owed anything to Revenue.

It was because of this evidence that Michael O'Higgins SC, defending, applied for a direction of not guilty by the trial judge on the basis that “there was no case to answer”.

The State didn't oppose the application. Judge Nolan withdrew the charge and the trial continued with the remaining eight charges in connection to the corporation tax associated with the €372,0000.

During the trial Judge Nolan told the jury that the issue in this case was what Mr Lowry knew.

He said the jury must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Lowry knew the money was not included in the company accounts and tax computations.

He said Mr Lowry's explanation was that he had instructed a staff member to raise an invoice in 2002, assumed this had been done and the money automatically entered on the company's accounts.

The judge told the jurors that they must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that this explanation is not true in order to convict. He said if they found the explanation reasonably believable, then they must acquit.

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