Fast food owner jailed for failing to lodge Vat returns

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The joint owner of a fast food restaurant has received four prison sentences of four months for failing to lodge Vat returns, with a Judge saying the offences were “an affront” to taxpayers and “a betrayal” of those who bought their fish and chips there.

Catherine Wharton, who has been operating Whartons fish and chip shop at 2 New St, Bantry, West Cork, in partnership with her sister, had previously pleaded guilty to four sample counts of failing to file Vat returns. She was also found guilty of four other sample counts relating to an earlier period during which she was a director of a company that had been running the business.

The court had heard that between September 2013 and August 2015, 23 Vat returns — which are payable every two months — were still outstanding. For the period September 2015 — from which point Ms Wharton entered a partnership with her sister, the previous company having been delisted — to April 2016, four Vat returns were filed this week, but all stating they were “nil” returns.

Ms Wharton’s accountant, Seamus O’Brien, told Judge James McNulty that he believed Ms Wharton was only liable for Vat returns after she entered the partnership for the restaurant, and not in the previous years when it was running under company ownership, saying they were “very different entities”.

The court also heard that a sum of more than €14,000 had been paid to the sheriff and that the balance owed could be as little as €10,000. But Revenue contended Ms Wharton was liable and that efforts to secure cash receipt data had been unsuccessful, while Ms Wharton’s solicitor claimed various correspondence between Revenue and Ms Wharton was not on the file recovered for the case under GDPR legislation.

At a previous court sitting Judge McNulty had directed penalties totalling €40,000 for the eight offences, but later vacated that order amid confusion over whether those amounts could be mitigated downwards. At the earlier sitting a senior tax inspector, Tom Ryan, had suggested the penalties could not be altered, which meant eight penalties of €5,000 for the offences.

However, yesterday state solicitor Malachy Boohig clarified that the penalties could be mitigated down to €1,250, but ultimately Judge McNulty, on hearing more detail as to the offences, including from Ms Wharton’s accountant, delivered a new sentence. On the four sample charges relating to when she was a director, Judge McNulty sentenced Ms Wharton to four fines of €5,000, payable within six months.

On the four charges to which she pleaded guilty, the judge referred to Ms Wharton’s recent efforts to correct the situation but said there were also aggravating factors. Referring to an earlier case in which a man was sent to prison for repeated shoplifting, the judge said Ms Wharton had to be sent to prison. Handing down sentences of four months on each conviction, he said the offences were “an affront to all tax-compliant businesses’ and added, “worse still, these offences are a betrayal of all those customers who pay Vat on their fast food and soft drinks at Wharton’s on New St in Bantry.” Ms Wharton lodged an appeal on her own bail bond of €100.

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