Belfast Telegraph

Thomas 'Slab' Murphy to be sentenced for tax evasion on February 26

Alleged former IRA chief Thomas "Slab" Murphy will be sentenced for tax evasion on the same day as Ireland's general election.

The Special Criminal Court in Dublin heard the 66-year-old bachelor farmer owes the Irish exchequer almost 190,000 euro (£147,000) for eight years of tax dodging.

The non-jury court adjourned sentencing until February 26 to consider examples of similar tax evasion cases.

Murphy, from Ballibinaby, Hackballscross, Co Louth, on the border with Northern Ireland, was found guilty last December by three judges of nine counts of tax fraud.

He has been described by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams as a good republican, while Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said peace was only secured thanks to support from men like him.

Murphy, dressed in a pink shirt and brown jacket, was in court for the two-hour hearing and sat in the dock and shook his head at one stage to confirm he has no dependants.

During the 32-day trial in the Special Criminal Court, which normally hears terrorism and organised crime trials, the farmer sat in the public gallery and did not give evidence.

One of his brothers supported him in court.

Murphy has been living with his sister since he was charged with tax offences in 2007 and he was remanded on continuing bail ahead of sentencing in a fortnight's time.

After hearing examples of penalties for previous tax evasion cases, Judge Paul Butler said: "It's a matter we do want to consider in light of the submissions made."

Sinn Fein has been roundly criticised in the election campaign as it is a longstanding party policy to abolish the Special Criminal Court if in power.

Murphy's sentence will be dealt with as Irish voters go to the polls and while a broadcasting moratorium is in place on election issues but it will not have any impact on the court report.

In 1998 Murphy, who has no previous convictions, lost a £1 million libel action against the Sunday Times which described him as a senior IRA figure.

In one of only two occasions when he has spoken publicly, he claimed he had to sell a home in order to pay for some of the cost.

Paul Burns, senior counsel for the state, outlined to the judges the assessments made of Murphy's earnings, taxes owed and interest from 1996 and 2004.

The total tax bill for the eight years was 38,519.56 euro (about £30,000), the court heard.

Interest built up on those unpaid bills totals 151,445.10 euro (about £117,000), taking the final bill to 189,964.66 euro, Mr Burns said.

The court was told the figures were based on income of 15,000 euro (£11,600) a year from the Murphy farm.

"I want to make this clear - Tom Murphy has not made any settlement," Mr Burns said.

Murphy was charged with five counts under the Republic's Taxes Consolidation Act and four under the Finance Act that he knowingly and wilfully failed to make tax returns and did so without reasonable excuses.

The court found he did not furnish Ireland's Revenue authorities with a return of income, profits or gains or the sources of them over eight years.

It also said Murphy received 100,000 euro (£73,000) in farm grants and paid out 300,000 euro (£220,000) to rent land.

And he was involved in hundreds of thousands of euro worth of cattle deals, buying and selling animals at marts up and down the country, and hundreds of thousands of euro was lodged and transferred out of a Permanent TSB account in Dundalk during the eight years.

The sentencing hearing heard Murphy has 70,000 euro (£54,000) in a pension with Irish Life which was frozen by Irish authorities after he was charged.

Defence barrister John Kearney QC told the judges "there's money in the bank" if a financial settlement is to be reached with tax inspectors over the evasion.

"A suspended sentence is not out of the question in a case like this," he said.

"I'd respectfully ask the court to consider the impact of a prison sentence on a man approaching 67, for offences, some of which were 20 years ago."

Murphy has worked as a yardsman for C&F Productions in Crossmaglen in south Armagh since April 2007 and earns £950 a month, the judges heard.

The court was also told he only missed one court hearing in the years since he was charged and that was because of snow, and that he has signed on in a Garda station "hundreds and hundreds" of times as part of his bail conditions.

Murphy denied all the charges.

Convicting Murphy at the end of last year, the court rejected defence claims that it was his brother Patrick who ran the farming operation and controlled the finances.

The court heard Murphy could face five years in jail or fines of up to 100,000 euro (£77,800) for the tax offences.

Mr Kearney challenged the tax liabilities and penalties detailed to the court.

"These headline figures, no doubt they will become headline figures, but these headline figures, they are the stuff of guess work," he said.

Mr Kearney also claimed the judges should look at imposing sentence for tax evasion on the base figure of 38,000 euro (£29,500) rather than 189,000 euro (£147,000) which included "compound cumulative interest".

The sentencing hearing was also given detail of the raid on Murphy's farm in March 2006, led by Ireland's Criminal Assets Bureau which targets proceeds of crime.

Cash sums of 256,235 euro (£199,334) and £111,185 (142,957 euro) was found along with computers, ledgers and documents in black bags hidden among hay bales in a cow shed

There were also uncashed cheques worth 579,270 euro (£450,525).

In other mitigating circumstances Mr Kearney said he did not dispute the guilty verdict of the court but claimed confusion remained over who was running the farm and controlled cattle herd 0127124X.

"Some comfort can be taken from the fact that tax was paid by Patrick Murphy on the 24X herd," he said.

The lawyer said the family connections to the farm and its operations had created a confusion over who was running the business.

Mr Kearney said this was the "blurred lines, the grey area surrounding this family unit, this farming unit or units".

In other investigations the trial also heard Murphy's brother Patrick had settled tax bills worth more than one million euro (£730,000) with the Revenue.

Nine properties in north-west England, worth £445,000 (573,000 euro) and owned by Slab's brother Francis and his wife Judy, were recovered by UK authorities.


From Belfast Telegraph