Judge gives priority listing to appeal against sentence in garlic import case


THE COURT of Criminal Appeal has been urged to give a priority hearing to an appeal by Dublin businessman Paul Begley against the severity of a six-year jail sentence imposed on him for failing to pay €1.6 million in garlic import duty.

Begley, head of fruit and vegetable importers Begley Brothers Ltd, based in Blanchardstown, Co Dublin, was jailed after he admitted avoiding paying Customs duty on more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic from China by having them labelled as apples.

During his trial before Dublin Circuit Criminal Court it was argued the import duty on garlic was “inexplicably” high and could be up to 232 per cent while other fruit and vegetables attracted rates as low as 9 per cent.

Begley (46), Woodlock, Redgap, Rathcoole, Co Dublin, was jailed after he pleaded guilty to four counts of evading Customs duty between September 2003 and October 2007. He has appealed against severity of sentence. The Director of Public Prosecution is opposing the appeal.

Patrick Gageby SC, for Begley, yesterday asked the court to, “on humanitarian grounds”, give the case a priority listing at next week’s list to fix appeal hearing dates.

Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman, noting the case involved the maximum sentence having been applied following a guilty plea for a first offence, said he was prepared to give the appeal a priority listing. Other cases previously given priority would remain in the list ahead of Begley’s appeal, he added.

The appeal is due to be mentioned again next Monday at the Court of Criminal Appeal when dates will be fixed for the hearing of appeals before the three-judge court. Begley’s appeal is expected to be heard in either October or November at the earliest.

Last March Dublin Circuit Court heard Begley’s tax-evasion scheme was uncovered on October 9th, 2007.

Customs officers at Dublin Port investigated a container that was thought to contain 18 tonnes of apples and two tonnes of garlic. When they looked inside they found 21 tonnes of garlic and no apples.

Following the find, Revenue staff began an investigation into previous imports by Begley’s company.

During a search of the company headquarters, officers seized a series of emails between Begley and his garlic supplier in China exchanged over some four years. The emails told the supplier to falsify importation documents to describe the shipments as apples rather than garlic.

When imposing sentence, Judge Martin Nolan described Begley as a decent man, but said he had engaged in a “grave” and “huge” tax-evasion scheme.

The judge said he had to impose a significant prison term in circumstances where, because such offences were hard to uncover, the only effective deterrent was a lengthy jail term for those who were caught.

He said while import tax on garlic “may or may not” be excessive, that was for the Oireachtas to decide and not individuals.