Thursday 19 September 2019

Judge fines Lowry €25,000 but says jail 'inappropriate'

Independent Tipperary TD Michael Lowry speaking to the media outside the Criminal Courts of Justice. Photo: Collins
Independent Tipperary TD Michael Lowry speaking to the media outside the Criminal Courts of Justice. Photo: Collins

Alison O'Riordan

Independent TD Michael Lowry said it was a "fantastic result" that he and his refrigeration company were fined a total of €25,000 for tax offences after a judge ruled that prison would be "inappropriate".

The politician and his company, Garuda Ltd, were convicted yesterday by a Dublin Circuit Criminal Court jury of two charges each of delivering an incorrect corporation tax return and failing to keep a proper set of accounts.

Judge Martin Nolan referred to Mr Lowry as a "conscientious tax payer" having accepted evidence that he previously "put his hand in his pocket" to settle a separate €1.4m tax bill, which had been owed by Garuda and dated back to 1997.

"Whatever was his motive for the 2006 actions, it was not to evade tax," said Judge Nolan, who added that "honest tax returns are very important" in terms of self-assessment of tax.

"Everyone is aware he has been involved in certain controversy," Judge Nolan said, adding these offences were offences of process. Judge Nolan accepted 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," he said.

He noted that the maximum sentence available to the court was a five-year jail term, but didn't think it was appropriate in the case. He fined Mr Lowry €15,000 personally and Garuda €10,000. He also disqualified Mr Lowry from acting as a director of the company for three years.

Outside court, Mr Lowry said it was the "beginning of the end" following 22 years of "absolute turmoil".

"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," he said.

"It has been a fantastic result. To hear the judge say I'm a conscientious tax payer, a good public representative, a good employer and that I saved my company by re-mortgaging the house when it was in difficulty, what more could I ask for?"

He said it had been a very traumatic time for him, adding he had been "pilloried, vilified, at times it was humiliating".

The jury of three women and eight men returned the verdicts following just over eight-and-a-half hours' deliberation. The jury was 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 Garuda Ltd, trading as Streamline Enterprises, received £248,624 in commission from Norpe OY, a refrigeration company based in Finland, in August 2002.

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

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 and one charge in relation to failing to keep a proper set of accounts on dates between August 28, 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.

Michael O'Higgins SC, defending Lowry, said his client was "an extremely hard-working representative for 30 years, working day and night on behalf of his constituency".

Irish Independent

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