Garlic scam man wins sentence cut
Published 22/01/2013 | 15:02
A businessman jailed for six years over a 1.6 million euro garlic import duty scam is to have his sentence reduced on appeal.
Paul Begley was handed the longest sentence on record for tax offences when he got caught labelling more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic imported from China as apples, which have a cheaper tax rate.
The father-of-three hugged his family after three judges at Dublin's Court of Criminal Appeal (CAA) ruled that his sentence should be shorter.
The judges ruled that the six-year term was excessive and disproportionate. Submissions from his legal team and the Director of Public Prosecutions over what his sentence should be will be heard on February 4.
His wife Diane, brother Greg, son Michael and elderly mother Phyllis were among the family members in the courtroom, which was packed with supporters. Outside the court a family spokesman said: "We note the outcome of the case and we thank everybody for their support."
Begley, 47, was head of Ireland's largest fruit and vegetable company, Begley Brothers Ltd, when he avoided paying a higher tax of up to 232% on garlic. Fruit and vegetables have rates as low as 9%.
He was jailed last March after he pleaded guilty to sample counts of evading Customs duty between September 2003 and October 2007. The trial judge was told the total fraud was about 1.6 million euro.
While the maximum sentence was five years, Judge Martin Nolan controversially imposed the maximum term on one count and one year on another count - to run consecutively. Begley, who is serving his sentence at the Training Unit in Mountjoy Prison, had also been disqualified from being a director of a company for five years.
Appeal court judge Mr Justice Liam McKechnie warned the tax evasion was a serious matter carried out with premeditation over a period of time for personal gain, so the sentence should be based on punishment and general deterrence. However, he told the court the mitigating factors against the lengthy sentence had been striking.
He said Begley supplied chapter and verse in the case against him, which was unprecedented. He added: "In effect, the book of evidence was entirely supplied by the appellant." He noted Begley pleaded guilty, was repaying the money and was not likely to reoffend.