Importer jailed for garlic tax evasion

Wed, Mar 14, 2012, 00:00

Sir, – I can no longer sit idly by while the justice system in this country goes madder and madder. We see people sentenced to a couple of years or suspended sentences for the taking of life or child abuse and bankers who got away with destroying this country walking away scot-free.

We then see Paul Begley being sent to prison for a tax offence while paying back the money,leaving a wife and children to be alone for six years while he serves his outrageous sentence (Home News, March 10th). This man contributes to his community and employs people in a business that has been around for many years; one hopes that the business survives and people do not lose their jobs.

I made a commitment to go on hunger strike from next Tuesday in protest against the injustice of sentencing in this country. I only hope that being a person who is not very strong willed I can do this for a reasonable length of time. I hope my faith can get me through. – Yours, etc,

DAVID SYMS (Rev),

Senior Pastor,

SP Baptist Church of Ireland,

Church Strand View,

Baltimore,

Co Cork.

Sir, – All this hullabaloo about white-collar crime. I would rather question why garlic is being imported from China in the first place. All those air miles should be avoided by importing from within Europe – and availing of EU tariffs. – Yours, etc,

MARTIN KRASA,

Sunday’s Well Road,

Cork.

Sir, – “Family shocked at garlic tax jail sentence” (Home News, March 12th), was an intriguing article. The family of Dublin food importer Paul Begley were shocked at the severity of the six- year prison sentence. Garlic from outside the EU “carries a tax of 232 per cent compared to just 9 per cent duty on all other fruit and vegetables.”

This crime has a similarity to a well-known VAT fraud where a trader who sells luxury products that should be charged at the top rate of VAT fraudulently describes them as products which would attract a lower rate of VAT.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court described the crimes as a “grave” and “huge” tax evasion scheme in failing to pay €1.6 million import duty on more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic. Nevertheless the family in their statement are quoted as saying: “we can’t understand how he received such an extraordinary sentence”. Perhaps I might attempt to explain the reason for a prison sentence rather than a heavy fine for this white-collar criminal.

Most tax evaders regard tax evasion as a form of “reverse lottery” and I will explain my theory of tax evasion as a “reverse lottery”. In a legitimate lottery you pay a small sum of money for a lottery ticket; you have a very poor probability of winning a big prize. The tax evader views tax evasion as a game of chance or a “reverse lottery”; he breaks the law confident in the knowledge that he is unlikely to be detected and he can make a lot of money. If he is unlucky and evasion is detected he will hope that he can reach an out of court settlement with the Revenue Commissioners and he will have to pay the tax he tried to evade, plus interest on the unpaid tax and penalties. If he is really unlucky and the evasion is so big that Revenue will not settle the case out of court, then up until now the worst he had to fear was a court fine or if he was extremely unlucky a suspended prison sentence which meant that the tax evader never saw the inside of a jail.

However, a ruling given last month by the Court of Criminal Appeal gave future sentencing guidelines that “significant and systematic frauds directed upon the public revenue . . . should generally meet with an immediate and appreciable custodial sentence”. Those sentencing guidelines mean that calculating the probability of escaping a prison sentence for tax evasion has now become more difficult. The landmark court judgment pointed out that crimes involving the loss of public money are not “victimless crimes”.

Many of your readers realise that tax evasion is not a “victimless crime”. Among the victims are: those on hospital trolleys in emergency wards, those educated in draughty pre-fabricated classrooms and pensioners who suffered a reduction in their winter fuel allowance.

Paul Begley’s failure to pay €1.6 million duty at the time it became legally due for payment, along with tax evaded by other large-scale tax evaders who have still to come before the courts, could have contributed to the support of those less fortunate in our society.

It would be better if we directed our sympathies towards the victims of tax evasion rather than the perpetrators of tax evasion. – Yours, etc,

JOSEPH MARRON,

Cowper Downs,

Rathmines,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – A man is jailed for six years for not paying tax on the importation of garlic (Home News, March 10th). A woman is jailed for six years for killing a father with four children by crushing him with her car against a wall (Home News, March 13th).

Do we now value a life as much as we value import duty? – Yours, etc,

KEVIN McDONNELL,

Berrings,

Co Cork.