European Court of Justice rules in truck driver's favour in case against Revenue Commissioners

By Ann O'Loughlin

The European Court of Justice has ruled in favour of a truck driver in his challenge against a tax penalty demand for €1.5m from Greece.

The ECJ made the ruling in the case Eamonn Donnellan has brought against the Revenue Commissioners concerning a demand that was served on him by Revenue over 10 years after his arrest, conviction and subsequent acquittal of smuggling cigarettes in Greece.

In a preliminary ruling, the ECJ found that under EU law, bodies like Revenue are not precluded from refusing requests from other member states to seek demands from persons on the grounds that the person who the demand was made against was not properly notified of the demand.

Mr Donellan of Culkeen, Cloonfad, Co. Roscommon, was jailed in 2002 after a consignment of 176,000 packs of contraband cigarettes was found concealed in his truck.

Mr Donnellan, who at all times maintained his innocence, served more than four months in jail before his conviction was overturned and he was released.

He returned home and heard nothing until November 2013 when he was notified by the Irish Revenue Commissioners that he owed the Greek Authorities €1.5m.

The demand was made under EU Council Directive 2010/24 and European Communities Regulations dealing with requests for mutual assistance for the recovery of certain levies, duties and taxes.

Mr Donnellan, represented by Paul McGarry SC Roderick Maguire Bl , disputes the demand, which he says is procedurally flawed, and an abuse of process.

He claims the Greek Authorities have not complied with the provisions of the EU Directive before requesting the Assistance of Revenue, and he was never properly notified of the demand nor was he given an opportunity to contest it, which is a breach of his rights.

He also was informed the demand was a penalty in respect of a criminal offence that he was acquitted of.

He claims he discovered the judgment was made against him in July 2009 and was published in the Official Gazette of the Greek Government.

As a result, Mr Donnellan seeks a declaration from the High Court that he is not liable for the demand and an injunction preventing Revenue from taking any steps to implement or give effect to the purported tax liability for the amount claimed. He further seeks damages.

Revenue opposes the application and claims it has complied with its obligations under EU law following a request from the Greek Authorities.

A preliminary question of law in the case was referred to ECJ in 2015 by Mr Justice Tony O'Connor.

In its decision today, the European Court of Justice said directives concerning mutual assistance in relation to the recovery of taxes and duties, when read in the light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU must not be interpreted as not precluding a member state from refusing to enforce a request to recover a fine imposed in another member state, because the decision imposing that fine was not properly notified to the person concerned before the request for recovery was made,

The case will return before the judge at a later date.

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