Garlic tax evader awaits appeal

Diane Begley (middle) wife of businessman Paul Begley with her sisters Claire (Left) and Michelle (Right) leaving court today. Photograph: Collins Courts

Diane Begley (middle) wife of businessman Paul Begley with her sisters Claire (Left) and Michelle (Right) leaving court today. Photograph: Collins Courts

Mon, Feb 4, 2013, 00:00

A businessman jailed over a €1.6 million garlic import duty scam has been remanded back into custody while appeal judges decide by how much to reduce his sentence.

Paul Begley was jailed for six years for tax offences after admitting labelling more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic imported from China as apples, which have a cheaper tax rate.

Three judges at Court of Criminal Appeal previously ruled that the term — the longest ever handed down for tax fraud of its kind — was excessive and disproportionate.

After brief submissions from legal teams in the court this morning they adjourned a decision on when Begley will be freed.

Begley (47) was head of country's largest fruit and vegetable company, Begley Brothers Ltd, when he avoided paying a higher tax of up to 232 per cent on garlic. Fruit and vegetables have rates as low as 9 per cent.

He was jailed last March.

Patrick Gageby, senior counsel for Begley, said three documents had been filed with the court which outline the “consequences” of the case on his client, including a five-year disqualification as a director since the day he pleaded guilty.

He also told the three judges, led by Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Liam McKechnie, that the conviction centred on a sample four charges of avoiding tax, totalling just over €85,000.

Elsewhere, Remy Farrell, senior counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, said the maximum sentence on each of the counts was five years in prison, or a €10,000 fine or treble the amount of the duty avoided, whichever was the largest sum.

Judge McKechnie said the court needed more time to consider the sentence, but would decide “pretty soon”.

Begley’s wife Diane, brother Greg, son Michael and elderly mother Phyllis were among the family members in the courtroom, which was packed with about 25 supporters.

He was jailed for evading customs duty between September 2003 and October 2007.

The trial judge was told the total fraud was about €1.6 million and that Begley, of Rathcoole, Co Dublin, had been paying off debts of €33,000 a month.

While the maximum sentence was five years, last year Judge Martin Nolan controversially imposed the maximum term on one count and one year on another count — to run consecutively.

Judge McKechnie previously warned the businessman the tax evasion was a serious matter carried out with premeditation over a period of time for personal gain.

However, he told the court the mitigating factors against the lengthy sentence had been striking.

Begley, who was dressed in a smart pin-striped suit, was led away by prison guards to continue serving his sentence at the Training Unit in Mountjoy jail.