Varadkar and Flanagan rule out intervening in case of jailed Howth doctor

Due process has been followed and the law must take its course, says justice minister

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan have declined to get involved in the case of Dr Bassam Naser, who was jailed for 16 months in June  after pleaded guilty to tax evasion. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan have declined to get involved in the case of Dr Bassam Naser, who was jailed for 16 months in June after pleaded guilty to tax evasion. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said supporters and patients of the jailed Howth physician, Dr Bassam Naser, should urge him to appeal his sentence through the courts if they want to help him.

The Taoiseach is understood to have told the local TD and junior minister Finnan McGrath, who raised the case with him on Tuesday, that he could not get involved.

Mr Varadkar’s position echoes that of Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, who has said he had “no intention of getting involved” in the case.

A recent meeting of local residents heard calls for the release from Loughan House open prison in Cavan of “Dr Sam” on “humanitarian grounds”. Supporters claim his 16 month prison sentence for tax evasion is overly severe and say his patients are distressed by his absence, as are his family.

Two locum, or temporary stand-in, doctors are operating Dr Sam’s practice in his absence.

Mr McGrath said he raised the case with the Taoiseach when he and other Independent Alliance TDs met him on Tuesday to discuss government business. Mr Varadkar had listened carefully to him, he said.

“He said he understood the human side of the case,” Mr McGrath said, “but that he couldn’t release him under the [Criminal Justice] Act because of the precedent it would set.”

Mr Flanagan took a similar position in reaction to pressure to intervene.

“The courts are independent of government in the performance of their functions,” he told the Irish Times. “We [politicians] make the law and the law takes its course.”

In June, Dr Sam was jailed for 16 months after pleaded guilty to tax evasion involving non-payment of tax on €159,951 lodged into undeclared bank accounts in 2006 and 2007.

Residents in north county Dublin, several of them high profile individuals, have launched a campaign to get him freed and are being supported by Mr McGrath.

Reacting to Mr McGrath’s involvement, Mr Flanagan said: “Minister McGrath deems it appropriate to make representations on behalf of his constituent but I am not intervening in a court case.”

He said due process had been followed, the evidence had been heard in open court, and a sentence handed down.

“As Minister for Justice, I am most reluctant to comment on any individual case,” said Mr Flanagan. “It is not about the individual. It is about the law and it would be invidious of me to become involved. I don’t interfere in the courts. They are independent and there was due process here.”

He said he did not “take issue” with the views of Dr Sam’s supporters in their concern for him.

“But it’s about the law and about compliance, and unlawful activity was found to have taken place and due process has been followed,” he added.