Thursday 23 January 2020

Man jailed for six years over €1.6m garlic tax scam reporters

THE head of one of the country’s biggest fruit and vegetable companies has been jailed for six years over a €1.6m garlic import scam.

Paul Begley (46), of Begley Brothers Ltd, Blanchardstown, Co Dublin, avoided paying higher custom duty/tax on over a thousand tonnes of garlic imported from China by having it labelled as apples which has a cheaper rate.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard yesterday that the import tax on garlic is “inexplicably” high and can reach 232pc.

Other fruit and vegetable have rates as low as 9pc.

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

The terms are to run consecutively.

Describing Mr Begley, with an address at Woodlock, Redgap, Rathcoole, as a “success story” and an “asset” to the country, Judge Nolan said: “It gives me no joy at all to jail a decent man.”

However, he added that Mr Begley had engaged in a “grave” and “excessive” tax evasion scheme.

He added that while the import tax on garlic “may or may not” be excessive, this was a question for the Oireachtas to decide and not individuals.

The judge also noted Mr Begley’s generosity in donating money to charities which was highlighted by his Counsel.

But he said he had to impose a significant jail term because such offences are hard to uncover and therefore the only effective deterrence is a long sentence..

Mr Begley pleaded guilty to four sample counts of evading customs duty between September 2003 and October 2007.

The total amount of garlic involved 1,013 tonnes, worth over €1m.

The offence was uncovered by Revenue officials at Dublin Port and they also found emails telling a supplier to falsify importation documents to describe the shipments as apples rather than garlic.

Counsel for Mr Begley asked Judge Nolan not to impose a custodial sentence and said his client is willing to pay any fine the court may impose.

Mr Begley made full admissions and volunteered extra information during the investigation.

He has been paying off debts of €33,000 a month over the last two years while a debt of €700,000 remains outstanding.

Counsel for Mr Begley handed in an expert analysis of the "unique nature and level of duty on garlic."

But the State disputed the term inexplicable adding that a detailed report explaining the rate had been made available earlier.

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