Garlic importer's term cut to two years

Paul Begley's wife Diane and her sister Michelle leaving the court after news his sentence has been cut. photographs: niall carson

Paul Begley's wife Diane and her sister Michelle leaving the court after news his sentence has been cut. photographs: niall carson

Sat, Feb 16, 2013, 00:00

The Court of Criminal Appeal yesterday reduced a six-year sentence imposed on garlic importer Paul Begley last year to two years.

The 47 year old was imprisoned last March for the evasion of €1.6 million on garlic import duty after the discovery that more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic imported from China were falsely labelled as apples.

The court ruled last month that the original sentence – the longest ever handed down in a case of this kind – was “not proportionate” as mitigating factors had not been “appropriately or properly valued”.

However, in delivering the court’s ruling yesterday on behalf of the three judges who heard the appeal, Mr Justice Liam McKechnie said there was no doubt that the charges in question were “serious and constitute a significant infringement of the criminal law”.

Premeditated acts

He said Begley’s actions were carried out at different times between 2003 and 2007 and required premeditated acts of deception. “An element or aspect of general deterrence is appropriate so as to demonstrate the consequences of this type of behaviour,” the judge said.

Although the judge referred to the high level of tax imposed on garlic imports, which stood at about 232 per cent of the worth of the product in 2003 compared with just 9.6 per cent currently charged on shallots and onions, he said the court had no role in commenting on the unfairness or otherwise of such a tax system.

He said mitigating factors included the immediate and extensive co-operation which Begley offered to the Revenue Commissioners and expressions of remorse “tangibly demonstrated” by the appellant.

The judge said the reduced two-year sentence would be backdated to the time at which Begley was first imprisoned in March last year. With remission, his sentence would be reduced by a quarter, meaning he could be released within a number of months.

Begley, of Rathcoole, Co Dublin, was the director of Ireland’s largest fruit and vegetable company, Begley Brothers Ltd, when he avoided paying the taxes.

Last month, Mr Justice McKechnie found that mitigating factors – including Begley’s cooperation with the investigation; his ongoing repayment of the €1.6 million involved; his remorse for his actions; and his total rehabilitation – had not been appropriately weighted in the original judgment.

Statement: Family's reaction

A spokesman for the family of Paul Begley said they welcomed the reduction in his sentence from six to two years.

“They are very grateful for all the messages of support and prayers that they have received over the last few months,”the spokesman said outside the court.

When the judgment came earlier, Begley directed a small smile at his many supporters in the courtroom.

Begley then hugged family members, including his son Michael and wife Diane .