Saturday 16 December 2017

Judgement on reopening extradition proceedings of construction boss wanted in connection with €5.8 million tax fraud reserved

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Ruaidhrí Giblin

The High Court has reserved judgment on reopened extradition proceedings involving a construction company director, wanted in the UK over his role in a £5 million (about €5.8 million) tax fraud.

Thomas Joseph O'Connor (49), with an address at Cloughbeirne, The Walk, Roscommon, was sentenced in his absence to four-and-a-half years in prison in January 2007 for defrauding the British revenue.

After being convicted following a six-week trial at Blackfriars Crown Court, Mr O’Connor, who was on bail, did not attend court for the sentencing hearing. He had returned to Ireland but was arrested on an extradition warrant in 2009.

After the High Court ordered his extradition, he appealed and the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal in October 2015. He lost a further appeal to the Supreme Court in March of this year.

In April, Mr O'Connor's lawyers applied for a postponement of his surrender to the UK on humanitarian grounds. The court heard his brother was terminally ill and undergoing palliative care.

Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly granted the application saying there was a "very particular closeness between Mr O'Connor and his brother".

In an earlier Habeas Corpus application, counsel for Mr O'Connor, Dr Michael Forde SC, claimed that his client could not be surrendered on account of 'Brexit'.

He said Britain's 2016 EU Referendum result was “academic” until notification of 'Brexit' was sent to Brussels on March 29 last – one day before the Supreme Court in Ireland dismissed Mr O'Connor's extradition appeal.

In reopened extradition proceedings, Dr Forde said his client was entitled to have a complete re-hearing or “a second shot” because of the 'Brexit' decision.

If Mr O'Connor is surrendered, Dr Forde said his client was likely to be imprisoned for four-and-a half years and as the law presently stands, the UK will have left the EU on March 29, 2019.

Dr Forde said “no provision” had been adopted in the UK to protect Mr O’Connor’s rights after this date.

He said it was “unfair” to expect his client who is on legal aid and with limited resources to say what the present view of the UK government would be after March 29, 2019. “He just simply cannot tell and that leaves Mr O’Connor in a legal limbo,” he said.

Dr Forde said he was entitled to “drag up everything” because the Supreme Court judgment “lacked clarity” on the “legal aid issue”.

Counsel for the Minister for Justice and Equality, Mr Robert Barron SC, said that Brexit was the only issue that could be re-opened in this case and the outcome of it was “unknown”. He said it was “speculation” as to what will happen to the Extradition Act in the UK and what arrangements would be put in place upon the UK leaving the EU. “Brexit will not alter domestic legislation,” he said.

Mr Barron said there was no evidence that Mr O’Connor would lose any of his fundamental rights before the court after March 29, 2019 nor that he would be re-extradited elsewhere. “It is all remature,” he said.

He said the UK was bound to its commitments on EU law at present. “What is being suggested here is that the UK will not respect its obligations but there is no evidence of this," he said.

Ms Justice Donnelly said she would reserved her judgment to July 25 next.

Mr O'Connor was remanded on continuing bail until that date.

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