Convicted fuel smuggler runs vast network of filling stations

PROFILE: THE MAN at the centre of the controversy surrounding a cheque for €5,000 allegedly collected by presidential candidate…

PROFILE:THE MAN at the centre of the controversy surrounding a cheque for €5,000 allegedly collected by presidential candidate Seán Gallagher on behalf of Fianna Fáil is multimillionaire and businessman Hugh Morgan, of the Morgan Fuels company.

Mr Morgan, who is in his early 50s and has a criminal conviction for fuel smuggling, has business interests throughout the Republic, Northern Ireland, Britain and continental Europe.

He also sponsors the Armagh GAA football team and has done so since 1997.

His company website says Morgan Fuels has more than 4,000 filling stations in Ireland and Britain, as well as France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Austria, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Slovenia, Italy and Luxembourg.

The company, which has offices in Ireland in Newry and Dundalk, also specialises in the provision of home heating oil.

As a younger man, Mr Morgan’s business dealings brought him into conflict with the law, resulting in his being convicted of criminal offences, given a suspended jail term and forced into a substantial tax settlement.

In 1998, when he was aged 38, Mr Morgan, with an address at the time at Dublin Road in Newry, was given an 18-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty to fuel smuggling charges.

The court was told he had paid £500,000 in excise duties and VAT owed on the smuggled fuel. He was also ordered to pay £25,000 towards the cost of prosecuting the case against him.

That prosecution arose from an investigation in the North into Mr Morgan’s business activities in the mid-1990s, when he was still in his early 30s.

He was sent for trial on 81 charges of evasion of customs duty on motor oil and three charges of evasion of VAT.

A financial professional that Mr Morgan was in business with also appeared before the courts and was charged with smuggling 2.5 million litres of diesel into the North from the Republic in a 10-month period in the mid-1990s.

However, that man was cleared of any wrongdoing. The jury in that trial was directed by the judge to acquit Mr Morgan’s associate after the prosecution offered no evidence against him.

In the period when he was under investigation by the authorities in the North, Mr Morgan began sponsoring the Armagh GAA teams, financial support which continues to the present day.

Just before his trial was due to go ahead in 1997, the authorities decided to switch it from Newry to Belfast. They believed a jury drawn from the Newry area could be prejudiced in Mr Morgan’s favour arising from his support of the county GAA team and local leagues.

Court papers at the time stated there was no evidence to justify the “naked assertion” that a jury comprising Gaelic footballers or supporters might not be impartial.

“The suggestion that people who play Gaelic sports or support them are more likely to be partial and prejudiced jurors than other groups of people is manifestly untenable.”

Mr Morgan lost an appeal to relocate the trial and eventually pleaded guilty.