Belfast Telegraph

Plea to minister over scam sentence

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has been called on to review the jailing of a businessman over a 1.6 million euro garlic import scam.

Paul Begley was sentenced to six years in February for evading customs duty on more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic.

Independent TD Finian McGrath wrote to Mr Shatter appealing for him to examine the case.

"I feel that in the current financial crisis, and with the carry on of bankers and politicians, it is a blatant unjust waste of resources," said Mr McGrath.

"It's crazy when there are a lot of violent people out there who should be locked up and when other people who brought this country to its knees should be locked up. I accept totally he did wrong and he has to pay his debt to society, but I feel the gravity of the sentence is way over the top."

Begley was head of Ireland's largest fruit and vegetable company, Begley Brothers Ltd, when he avoided paying higher custom duty/tax on more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic imported from China by having it labelled as apples, which have a cheaper rate.

At his sentencing, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard the import tax on garlic can reach 232% while other fruit and vegetables have rates as low as 9%. Begley, of Rathcoole, Co Dublin, had been paying off debts of 33,000 euro a month over the last two years with a debt of 700,000 euro left outstanding.

While the maximum sentence was five years in prison or a fine of three times the value of the goods, Judge Martin Nolan said it gave him no joy to impose the maximum term on one count and one year on another count - to run consecutively.

Mr McGrath stressed he was not making the appeal on behalf of Begley, and admitted he wrote to him only this week in Mountjoy jail telling him he planned to raise the matter. He said Begley had accepted total responsibility for his crime and was paying his fines, but is still serving the same jail term of serious criminals.

"This is a grave injustice for a non-violent crime," Mr McGrath wrote to the Justice Minister. "He will also do community service if requested. His business is now under serious threat and 200 jobs are at risk while he is in prison."

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