Thursday 21 November 2019

Judge in ‘garlic man’ appeal says import tax disparity is a matter for government

Sarah Stack

THE huge disparity between tax paid on imported garlic and other vegetables is an issue for Government and not for the courts, a senior judge said today.

Cutting Paul Begley's jail term by four years, Judge Liam McKechnie acknowledged that marking garlic imported from China as onions or shallots could have saved him 24 times the excise duty paid.

For five years the businessman had recorded imported large consignments of garlic as apples, which carry an even lower excise duty of 9%.

The judge said there was no doubt the figures arouse great curiosity and make for a fascinating expose.

"However, despite what interest one might have in or even concern about such levels of duty and at the rationale underpinning the great disparity between garlic and other comparable foods, the fact of the matter is that such curiosity must remain at a personal level and not at a legal one as this court, when imposing a criminal sanction, has no role in commenting upon, accounting for or reflecting on their fairness or otherwise of such a tax system," said the Supreme Court judge.

"This remains a matter for Government in the context of the appropriate EU structure presently constituted."

According to Revenue the rate of duty on garlic imported from outside the EU is 9.6% of the value of the product, plus 1200 euro per tonne.

The probe found Begley imported approximately 1,413 tonnes from China, valued at €1.1m, from 2003 to 2007.

In evidence, a leading academic told the court that garlic from third countries, such as China, has been the subject of a series of EU Regulations over the years and the rates due to be paid by Begley peaked to a high of 232% in 2003.

Trinity College Professor Caoimhin Mac Maolain said he believed the quota system and rates for garlic imports are "highly punitive" and quite unlike any other charge he has come across in the field of international trade in food.

While once set at 12% for garlic and similar food like shallots and onions, with no additional tonnage charge, the rules have changed several times since 2001.

But when rates dropped to 9.6% for onions and shallots, a fee per kilo was added for garlic.

"This can result in a saving of up to 24 times that paid on garlic," the court added.

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