Reserved judgment in garlic importer's prison sentence appeal

Tuesday 04 December 2012 11.07
Paul Begley was jailed after avoiding paying Customs duty on more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic from China
Paul Begley was jailed after avoiding paying Customs duty on more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic from China

The Court of Criminal Appeal has reserved judgment in an appeal by a Dublin businessman who was jailed for six years for failing to pay €1.6m in garlic import duty.

Paul 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.

The three-judge appeal court was told this morning that it was the longest sentence ever handed down in a Revenue matter.

Senior Counsel Patrick Gageby said the trial judge had erred in principle by failing to take into account Begley's guilty plea and the fact that he had repaid the tax before imposing the maximum sentence on one charge.

Mr Gageby said Begley had fully cooperated with a Revenue investigation and had provided all the documents that formed the case against him.

He had been the architect of the case against himself, he said.

Mr Gageby said the trial judge had not been proportionate in sentencing, as he said he was punishing Begley and deterring others and did not take into account any mitigating factors.

Such sentences were to be held only for the worst case and the worst circumstances, according to Mr Gageby.

Mr Gageby said if the maximum sentence was imposed on a man who had pleaded guilty and cooperated fully that could have a chilling effect on people cooperating.

He said deterrent sentences could be looked at in two ways.

The Director of Public Prosecutions is opposing the appeal. 

Senior counsel Remy Farrell said €1.6m was at the very highest end of the scale for this type of offence.

It was committed for no reason other than greed and posed a competitive disadvantage to others, he said.

During Begley's trial before Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, it was argued the import duty on garlic was "inexplicably" high and could be up to 232%, while other fruit and vegetables attracted rates as low as 9%.

Begley, 46, of Woodlock, Redgap, Rathcoole, Co Dublin, was jailed after he pleaded guilty to four counts of evading Customs duty between September 2003 and October 2007.

Last March, the court heard that Begley's tax-evasion scheme was uncovered on 9 October, 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.

Revenue staff began an investigation into previous imports by Begley's company after the discovery.

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.

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