Car dealer avoids jail for €86k tax offence

A car dealer who evaded paying €86,500 tax on high-end vehicles during the Celtic Tiger years has managed to avoid jail.

Lee Cullen, aged 41, was given a two-year suspended sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court and ordered to pay money he owes the State within 12 months.

Cullen, of Starwood, Coolmine, Saggart, pleaded guilty to evading Vehicle Registration Tax on seven Range Rovers at the Vehicle Registration Office, Main St, Tallaght, between Feb 13, 2006, and March 29, 2007.

Hugh Hartnett SC, defending, said Cullen owns a property in Spain valued at €495,000, which he intends to sell within a year and use the proceeds to repay the tax he owes. The court heard the contents of the house have been sold for €15,000 and a cheque for this amount was given to the Criminal Assets Bureau yesterday.

Det Sgt Fergal Harrington of the Criminal Assets Bureau said Cullen was importing mostly new and some used high-end Range Rovers from Britain.

Det Sgt Harrington told Dominic McGinn SC, prosecuting, that the vehicles Cullen sold were Range Rover Vogue derivatives, which is the highest specification model in the range.

However, Cullen was presenting them at the VRT Centre in Tallaght as being lower-specification Range Rover HSE derivatives, which gave them a lower open market price and accordingly, a lower VRT.

The court heard that VRT is estimated at 30% of the open market selling price, and Cullen was avoiding paying between €6,000 and €8,000 in VRT per vehicle.

Two car dealers who were jointly accused with Cullen were also before the courts. One got a suspended sentence, while the other was found not guilty by direction of the judge.

Mr Hartnett said Cullen’s business and his life have been “destroyed and shattered” as a result of his involvement with this crime. His business has dwindled “almost to nothing” and he now works in Birmingham in England earning £500 (€590) a week.

A statement from Lloyd’s Bank said Cullen still owes €300,000 in outstanding payments on the mortgage on his property in Spain.

Judge Patrick McCartan sentenced Cullen to two years’ jail, but suspended the term on condition he keeps the peace and is of good behaviour for two years.


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