Minister defends lobbying for release of doctor jailed for not paying tax

Finian McGrath has visited Dr Bassam Naser in prison who is ‘very remorseful’

Dr Bassam Naser, of Howth Road, Sutton, Dublin 13, who was jailed for failing to pay €100,000 in tax. File photograph: Alan Betson

Dr Bassam Naser, of Howth Road, Sutton, Dublin 13, who was jailed for failing to pay €100,000 in tax. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

An Independent Minister is lobbying Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan for the release of a GP who was recently jailed for failing to pay €100,000 in tax.

Finian McGrath, the Minister of State for Disability Issues, who sits at the Cabinet table, also visited Dr Bassam Naser in Loughan House Open Prison, Co Cavan, this week.

Naser, of Howth Road, Sutton, was last month sentenced to 16 months in prison for failing to pay €100,000 in income tax. He also owes €200,000 in fines and penalties.

Judge Martin Nolan said his offences were serious, and that Naser had 'failed abysmally' and was 'morally reprehensible'

He pleaded guilty to two charges of delivering an incorrect return in connection with his income tax affairs with the court hearing that he had a hidden bank account into which he lodged 1,686 cheques received from patients attending his clinic.

Mr McGrath said Dr Naser was “very remorseful from my conversations with him in prison” and “it was more a mistake between himself and his accountant in returning his tax returns”.

In passing down sentence, Judge Martin Nolan said his offences were serious, and that Naser had “failed abysmally” and was “morally reprehensible”.

‘Community service’

However, Mr McGrath claims the GP – who is based in his Dublin Bay North constituency – should now “be released and perhaps do some community service”.

He said while he did not “condone” Mr Naser’s crime, “keeping him in prison serves nobody, and is costing the taxpayer’s €330 per day”.

The severity of the sentence doesn’t fit the crime. I think it is appropriate where I feel a grave injustice has been done

He defended his advocacy for someone convicted of not paying tax, insisting that the issue is the “severity of the sentence”.

When asked if it was appropriate for him, as a Minister, to lobby to have someone who has committed a crime released from prison, Mr McGrath said it was a “humanitarian gesture”.

A grave injustice

He said Mr Flanagan had an option to commute or remit any sentence imposed by a court.

“The severity of the sentence doesn’t fit the crime. I think it is appropriate where I feel a grave injustice has been done.”

Mr McGrath said he was moved by the trauma of Dr Naser, who has a son with a disability, and also added that he had a strong record in doing charity work for his native Palestine. Hundreds of people in north Dublin have signed a petition calling for the overturning of the court’s decision.