The head of Ireland's largest fruit and vegetable producers has been jailed for six years for a €1.6m scam involving the importation of garlic.

46-year-old Paul Begley of Woodlock, Redgap, Rathcoole avoided paying customs duty on over a thousand tonnes of garlic from China by having them labelled as apples.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard the import duty on garlic is "inexplicably" high and can be up to 232%. In contrast, onions have an import duty of 9%. Judge Martin Nolan imposed the maximum term on one count and one year on another count. These are to run consecutively, meaning a total of six years."It gives me no joy at all to jail a decent man", Judge Nolan said.

He said Begley is a "success story" an "asset to the country" in supporting the economy and providing employment. He noted Begley's generosity and that he donates money to homeless charities and the St Vincent de Paul.

However the judge added he had engaged in a "grave" and "huge" tax evasion scheme. The import tax on garlic "may or may not" be excessive, he said but that this was for the Oireachtas to decide and not individuals.

A statement from the company, which employs 100 people, said it was "shocked" by the sentence as Mr Begley had co-operated with the Revenue investigation. A spokesman said the company would continue to operate as normal.