Importer appeals garlic tax term
The former head of the country’s biggest fruit and vegetable company must wait to learn if his appeal against his six year sentence for failing to pay import tax on garlic has been successful.
The Court of Criminal Appeal today reserved its judgment on the appeal by Paul Begley (47), of Begley Brothers Ltd, Blanchardstown, Co Dublin, who avoided paying higher custom duty on over a thousand tonnes of garlic imported from China by having consignments labelled as apples which are taxed at a lower rate.
Last March he was jailed for six years by Judge Martin Nolan after pleading guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to four sample counts of evading customs duty between September 2003 and October 2007.
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 a consecutive one year sentence on another count.
Lawyers for Begley had urged the three-judge court to review what they submitted was the longest sentence ever passed by a court in relation to a revenue matter.
The State countered that there was considerable evidence before Judge Nolan that the offences were committed “for no reason other than greed”.
Mr Patrick Gageby SC, for Begley, said to identify the offence with the very worst of circumstances, and then to go on and impose the maximum sentence despite the “very large amount” of material in mitigation indicated an error in principle by Judge Nolan.
He said the sentence appeared to be the longest sentence ever passed by a court in a revenue matter.
Mr Gageby submitted that Judge Nolan made no reference to Begley’s plea of guilty in his sentencing remarks, which constituted a singular error in principle distinct from any other aspect in the case.
He said the sentencing judge had not paid due regard to the principle of proportionality by failing to identify the range of appropriate penalties available and where the offence lay on this range before going on to apply the mitigating factors in the case.
Mr Gageby told the court that Judge Nolan failed to take the issue of reparation in to account, which he submitted was highly relevant in all revenue cases.
He submitted that Begley had waived his right to silence during the investigation stage, had volunteered documents to the Revenue Commissioners and in some sense had become the architect of the case against him.
Mr Gageby submitted that Begley had agreed on an ongoing schedule to satisfy his revenue obligations, although he conceded that only a small amount of interest and no penalties had been factored in to the final figure.
He submitted that there was an obligation on all citizens to pay taxes - which Begley had belatedly complied with – and although the court was not obliged to give kudos to citizens who comply with these obligations, it should take in to account whether reparations had been made.
Counsel for the State, Mr Remy Farrell SC, told the court one of the most important aspects to consider was the weight of evidence that went before the sentencing judge of the offences having been committed “for no reason other than greed”.
He said Begley’s plea was entered on the agreement that full facts would be heard, and the defence had introduced the matter of the €1.6 million liability on the basis the court could take in to account the punitive aspect of the overall outstanding amount.
Mr Farrell said the amount of money defrauded clearly meant the offence was at the “very highest end” of the scale of seriousness and had also involved malice, forethought and the involvement of others.
Asked by presiding judge Mr Justice Liam McKechnie as to why there was such a divergence from the norm on the import duty on garlic, Mr Farrell said the tax appeared to be “protectionism in the very old fashioned sense” and was aimed squarely at Chinese garlic.
Mr Justice McKechnie, sitting with Mr Justice Eamon deValera and Mr Justice Brian McGovern, said the court would return judgment in the immediate future.