Garlic importer gets two-year term

Paul Begley (right), of Begley Brothers Ltd, Blanchardstown, Dublin arriving at the Four Courts for a Court of Criminal Appeal hearing against the severity of his prison sentence last month. Photograph: Collins Courts

Paul Begley (right), of Begley Brothers Ltd, Blanchardstown, Dublin arriving at the Four Courts for a Court of Criminal Appeal hearing against the severity of his prison sentence last month. Photograph: Collins Courts

Fri, Feb 15, 2013, 00:00

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

Begley was imprisoned last March for the evasion of €1.6 million on garlic import duty.

Three judges at Dublin’s Court of Criminal Appeal previously ruled his sentence - the longest ever handed down for tax fraud of its kind - was excessive and disproportionate. But they warned the 47-year-old, who admitted labelling more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic imported from China as apples, that his tax evasion was a serious matter carried out with premeditation over a period of time for personal gain.

In delivering the court's ruling 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". He said the actions were carried out at different times between 2003 and 2007 and required premeditated acts of deception.

The judge said that, given such it was "impossible to say that these were out of character" as Begley must have appreciated the wrongdoing in his conduct. "An element or aspect of general deterrence is appropriate so as to demonstrate the consequences of this type of behaviour," he added.

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

He said mitigating factors in this case included the immediate and extensive cooperation Begley offered to the Revenue Commissioners in their investigation and expressions of remorse "tangibly demonstrated" by the appellant.

The judge ruled that, in order to reflect the gravity of the offences, but crediting Begley with due weight for the "very significant" mitigating features, the appropriate sentence should be one of two years.

Begley, who wore a dark striped suit and a black, maroon and cream striped tie, hugged family members including his mother, son, sister-in-law and wife in the courtroom following the judgement.

Outside the Four Courts, a spokesman for the Begley family said they welcomed the judgment. The family thanked the public for their support, prayers and expressions of goodwill and extended their thanks to the legal team.

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

While his conviction centred on a sample four charges of avoiding tax totalling just over €85,000, the trial judge was told the total fraud was about €1.6 million and that Begley had been paying off debts of €33,000.

The maximum sentence for each count is five years in prison, or a €10,000 fine, or treble the amount of the duty avoided, whichever was the largest sum.