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Wednesday 18 July 2018

'Fantastic', says Lowry as he avoids prison but is fined €15k over taxes

TD Michael Lowry said he was ‘thrilled’ after his conviction. Photo: Collins Courts
TD Michael Lowry said he was ‘thrilled’ after his conviction. Photo: Collins Courts

Independent TD Michael Lowry and his refrigeration company have been fined a total of €25,000 for tax offences after a judge ruled a custodial sentence would be "inappropriate" - a result the Tipperary TD described as "fantastic".

The politician and Garuda Ltd were convicted yesterday by a Dublin Circuit Criminal Court jury of two charges each of delivering an incorrect corporation tax return and failing to keep a proper set of accounts.

Judge Martin Nolan made his ruling after a verdict was delivered by the jury, on day 12 of the trial, just before lunchtime.

Conscientious

The judge referred to Lowry as a "conscientious taxpayer", having accepted evidence that he previously "put his hand in his pocket" to settle a separate €1.4m tax bill that had been owed by Garuda and dated back to 1997.

"Whatever was his motive for the 2006 actions, it was not to evade tax," Judge Nolan said, adding that "honest tax returns are very important" in terms of self-assessment of tax.

He said the court was dealing with "a very narrow series of events".

"Everyone is aware he has been involved in certain controversy," Judge Nolan added. He said these offences were offences of process and noted that Revenue has not been at a loss in relation to what occurred.

Judge Nolan accepted that the politician had no previous convictions, was a good employer and a very good public representative.

"The proof of the pudding is in the eating. He has been re-elected," the judge said.

He noted that the maximum sentence available to the court was a five-year term, but said he did not think a custodial sentence was appropriate in the case.

He fined Lowry €15,000 personally and Garuda €10,000. He also disqualified Lowry from acting as a director of the company for three years.

"He seems to have rescued his company. If he had not put in a substantial cash infusion into the company it would not be operating at present," the judge said.

He was referring to evidence that Lowry re-mortgaged his home to pay the €1.4m tax bill in 2007.

The jury returned the verdicts following just over eight-and-a-half hours of deliberation.

They were unable to reach a decision on four remaining charges. The State is not proceeding with those charges.

It was the State's case that Lowry's company, Garuda, trading as Streamline Enterprises, received £248,624 (€372,000) in commission from Norpe OY, a refrigeration company based in Finland, in August 2002.

It was alleged that Lowry arranged for this payment to be made to a third party, Kevin Phelan, through the Glebe Trust based in the Isle of Man, meaning it did not appear in the company accounts for that year.

The accounts were then falsified in 2007 to reflect that the payment was received in 2006.

Lowry (64), of Glenreigh, Holycross, Co Tipperary, had pleaded not guilty to four charges of filing incorrect tax returns on dates between August 2002 and August 2007.

Speaking outside court after his conviction and fine, Lowry said he had entered the criminal courts building as a free man and he was leaving as a free man.

Turmoil

"I'm thrilled for my family, my relatives, for my staff and for the people of Tipperary who have been so loyal and steadfast in their support for me during 22 years of absolute turmoil," he said.

"So for me today is the beginning of the end. It has been a fantastic result.

"To hear the judge say I'm a conscientious taxpayer, a good public representative, a good employer and that I saved my company by re-mortgaging my house when it was in difficulty, what more could I ask for?"

He said his case was a "technical problem" and should never have been brought to the Circuit Court.

"What business had they bringing me here? None, none and that has been proven," he said.

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