No decision yet on new sentence for garlic importer

Fruit and vegetable importer Paul Begley will have to wait a little longer to find out what his new sentence for a tax fraud will be.

The Court of Criminal Appeal last month ruled his original six-year jail term was excessive, but now wants more time considering what sentence would be appropriate.

Begley was jailed last March having pleaded guilty to four sample tax offences dating from 2003 to 2007.

The scam involved having containers of garlic imported from China labelled as apples to avoid paying the exceptionally high duty on garlic.

He is now in the process of paying off a €1.6m settlement with the Revenue Commissioners.

Today the matter was back before the three-judge panel who are to decide on a new sentence.

However, having heard very brief submissions from the DPP and Begley's lawyers, presiding judge Mr Justice Liam McKechnie said they wanted to consider the matter a little further and that they would give their decision soon.

The businessman will remain in custody.

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.

Patrick Gageby, senior counsel for Begley, said three documents had been filed with the court which outline the “consequences” of the case on his client, including a five-year disqualification as a director since the day he pleaded guilty.

He also told the three judges, led by Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Liam McKechnie, that the conviction centred on a sample four charges of avoiding tax, totalling just over €85,000.

Elsewhere, Remy Farrell, senior counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, said the maximum sentence on each of the counts was five years in prison, or a €10,000 fine or treble the amount of the duty avoided, whichever was the largest sum.

Judge McKechnie said the court needed more time to consider the sentence, but would decide “pretty soon”.

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

He was jailed for evading customs duty between September 2003 and October 2007.

The trial judge was told the total fraud was about €1.6m and that Begley, of Rathcoole, Co Dublin, had been paying off debts of €33,000 a month.

While the maximum sentence was five years, last year Judge Martin Nolan controversially imposed the maximum term on one count and one year on another count – to run consecutively.

Judge McKechnie previously warned the businessman the tax evasion was a serious matter carried out with premeditation over a period of time for personal gain.

However, he told the court the mitigating factors against the lengthy sentence had been striking.

Begley, who was dressed in a smart pin-striped suit, was led away by prison guards to continue serving his sentence at the Training Unit in Mountjoy Jail.

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