Garlic importer Begley's sentence cut from six to two years

Paul Begley on right. Picture: Courtpix

A businessman jailed over a €1.6m garlic import duty scam has had his record six-year sentence cut to two years on appeal.

Paul Begley was imprisoned last March for tax evasion after admitting labelling more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic imported from China as apples, which have a cheaper tax rate.

Three judges at Dublin’s Court of Criminal Appeal previously ruled his sentence - the longest ever handed down for tax fraud of its kind – was excessive and disproportionate.

Begley, 47, smiled and nodded at family members before kissing his wife Diane in the court after the judgment was handed down.

The businessman 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%.

While his conviction centred on a sample four charges of avoiding tax totalling just over €85,000, the trial judge was told the total fraud was about €1.6m and that Begley had been paying off debts of €33,000 a month.

The maximum sentence for each count is five years in prison, or a €10,000 fine, or treble the amount of the duty avoided, whichever was the largest sum.

Begley, of Rathcoole, Co Dublin, was jailed for evading customs duty between September 2003 and October 2007.

Appeal judges had warned the 47-year-old, who is disqualified from being a director of a firm for five years, that his tax evasion was a serious matter carried out with premeditation over a period of time for personal gain.

Dressed in a pin-striped suit, Begley chatted with Sean Quinn Junior - who was in the Four Courts for a separate case - in a corridor outside the courtroom before the brief hearing.

The pair served time together in Mountjoy’s training unit, where Quinn was jailed for contempt of court.

Begley’s wife, brother Greg, son Michael and elderly mother Phyllis were among the family members in the courtroom, which was packed with about 25 supporters.

The judges noted that while there were several mitigating factors, including Begley’s co-operation with the probe and guilty plea, the offences were significant and premeditated.

“By reason of these circumstances and in order to reflect the gravity of the offences in question, the circumstances of their commission but crediting the appellant with due and apposite weight for the very significant mitigating features, this court is of the view that appropriate sentence should be two years,” Judge Liam McKechnie added.

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