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Jailed garlic tax man begs for early appeal

THE Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) has been urged to give a priority hearing to the appeal by businessman Paul Begley against the severity of his six- year jail sentence over a €1.6m garlic import scam.

Last March, Begley (46) of Woodlock, Redgap, Rathcoole, and the head of Ireland's largest fruit and vegetable producers Begley Brothers Ltd, Blanchardstown, Dublin, was jailed after he admitted avoiding paying higher custom duty/tax on over 1,000 tonnes of garlic imported from China by having it labelled as apples, which have a cheaper import tax rate.

The court heard that the import tax on garlic is high and can reach 232pc, while other fruit and vegetable have rates as low as 9pc. He pleaded guilty to four counts of evading customs duty between September 2003 and October 2007.

Judge Martin Nolan imposed the six-year term on one count and one year on another count. However Begley has appealed against the severity of that sentence. The Director of Public Prosecution is opposing Begley's appeal. Yesterday, defence for Begley, Patrick Gageby, asked the CCA to allow Begley's case be given priority at next weeks list to fix dates on humanitarian grounds.

Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman, noting that the case was one where the maximum sentence had been applied following a guilty plea on first offence, said he was prepared to give the appeal a priority listing.

Other cases that have previously been given priority will remain in the list ahead of Begley's appeal, the Judge added.

The appeal is due to be mentioned next Monday at the CCA when dates will be fixed for the hearing of appeals pending before Court of Criminal Appeal. Begley's appeal is expected to be heard next October at the earliest.



Uncovered

Last March, Dublin Circuit Court heard that Begley's scheme was uncovered on October 9 2007 when customs officers at Dublin Port investigated a container that was thought to contain 18 tonnes of apples and two tonnes of garlic. When they looked inside they found 21 tonnes of garlic and no apples.

Following the find, revenue staff began an investigation into previous imports by Begley's company. During a search of the headquarters, officers seized a series of emails between Begley and his garlic supplier in China which were exchanged over the course of four years.



Falsify

The emails told the supplier to falsify the importation documents to describe the shipments as apples rather than garlic.

Passing sentence Judge Nolan acknowledged that Begley was a decent man, however he said Begley had engaged in a "grave" and "huge" tax evasion scheme.

The judge said he had to impose a significant prison term because as such offences were hard to uncover, the only effective deterrence was a lengthy jail term.

He said the import tax on garlic "may or may not" be excessive, but that was for the Government to decide.

kfoy@herald.ie