Revenue does not to have to collect €1.5m Greek fine from Irish driver, ECJ rules

Greece asked Ireland to recover penalty from trucker wrongly convicted of smuggling

European Court of Justice ruling: Ireland could refuse to help Greece as Athens had failed to notify Éamonn Donnellan of the fine it had imposed. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty

European Court of Justice ruling: Ireland could refuse to help Greece as Athens had failed to notify Éamonn Donnellan of the fine it had imposed. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty

 

The European Court of Justice has ruled that Revenue does not have to collect €1.5 million that the Greek tax authorities are seeking from an Irish truck driver.

Revenue had served Éamonn Donnellan, from Culkeen, Cloonfad, Co Roscommon, with the bill under an EU directive on mutual assistance in the recovery of claims. But he contested the fine, which he had not known about until the Irish authorities tried to collect it.

As the window for objecting to the bill in Greece had closed, Mr Donnellan took his case to the High Court, which in 2015 referred it to the European Court of Justice. The Luxembourg court has now ruled that in an exceptional case such as Mr Donnellan’s one member state can refuse another’s request to recover money for it. The matter will now go back to the High Court, which is likely to rule in Mr Donnellan’s favour.

Contraband cigarettes

Mr Donnellan had been stopped in July 2002 at the Greek port of Patras, where, in addition to the olive oil that he was bringing to a supermarket chain in Ireland, a search of his truck’s cargo found 176,000 packs of contraband cigarettes.

Within three days Mr Donnellan, who was then aged 23, was brought before a Greek court, without legal representation, and sentenced to 3½ years in prison for smuggling. Mr Donnellan said he believed he was only transporting the oil. Supporters in Ireland protested that he was innocent and had not received a fair trial. His conviction was overturned on appeal, and he returned home after more than four months in jail.

€1.5 million fine

In November 2012 Revenue told Mr Donnellan that in 2009 Greek customs had imposed a fine of almost €1.1 million for the smuggled cigarettes, and that he now owed a total of €1.5 million. The truck driver told the High Court that this was the first time he had been told about the fine. His lawyers claimed the demand was procedurally flawed and an abuse of process.

The European Court of Justice has now ruled that, under the directive, a jurisdiction is not precluded from refusing to enforce a request if the person concerned has not been properly notified of the decision to impose the fine.