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Shock over six-year jail term for garlic scam businessman

THE six-year sentence imposed on the head of Ireland's largest fruit and vegetable producers has been slammed as "over the top" by Independent TD Finian McGrath.

Paul Begley (46), of Begley Brother's Ltd, based in Blanchardstown, was jailed for a €1.6m scam involving the importation of garlic.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard how the businessman avoided paying customs duty on over a thousand tonnes of garlic from China by having them labelled as apples.

His company employs 150 people and the married father-of-three made full admissions to the scam, making monthly repayments of €33,000 over the past two years to the Revenue.

Speaking to the Herald, Mr McGrath said: "I think there should have been common sense here."

"My reaction is that I think it's amazing that the people, including those senior bankers and people who caused billions of euro worth of damage to the economy -- not one of them has been prosecuted, or charged or put in jail," he said.

Yesterday, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard the import duty on garlic is "inexplicably" high and can be up to 232pc. In contrast, onions have an import duty of 9pc.

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 term on one count and one year on another count. These are to run consecutively, giving a total of six years.

"It gives me no joy at all to jail a decent man," Judge Nolan said. He said Begley is a "success story" an "asset to the country" in supporting the economy and providing employment.

He noted Begley's generosity and that he donates money to homeless charities and St Vincent de Paul. However the judge added he had engaged in a "grave" and "huge" tax evasion scheme.

Begley, of Woodlock, Redgap, Rathcoole, 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.

Revenue officer Denis Twohig told prosecuting counsel, Remy Farrell, that the scam was uncovered on October 9, 2007 when customs officers at Dublin Port investigated a container that was supposed to contain 18 tonnes of apples and two tonnes of garlic.


When they looked inside they found 21 tonnes of garlic and no apples. Mr Twohig said the import duty on apples is 9pc of the total value while the duty on garlic is €120 per kilogram and an additional 9.6pc of the total value. The outstanding tax on this consignment alone was €25,000.

Following the find, Revenue Officers began an investigation into previous imports by the company. During a search of the headquarters, officers seized a series of emails between Begley and his garlic supplier in China which were exchanged over the course of four years.The emails told the supplier to falsify the importation documents to describe the shipments as apples rather than garlic.

The court heard Begley has been paying off debt over the past two years at €33,000 a month. A debt of €700,000 remains outstanding.

Defence counsel David Keane said Begley is 18 years married and has three teenage children.

In a statement, the Begley Brothers said they were "shocked" at the sentence. "We believe the imposition of a custodial sentence is grossly excessive and is a tragedy for Paul and his family."

Mr Begley's family declined to comment.