The former head of the country’s biggest fruit and vegetable company must wait to learn if his appeal against his six-year sentence for failing to pay import tax on garlic has been successful after the Court of Criminal Appeal reserved judgment.
Paul Begley, aged 47, of Begley Brothers Ltd, Blanchardstown, Co Dublin, avoided paying higher custom duty on over 1,000 tonnes of garlic imported from China by having consignments labelled as apples.
Last March he was jailed for six years by Judge Martin Nolan after pleading guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to four sample counts of evading customs duty. While the maximum sentence is five years in prison or a fine of three times the value of the goods, Judge Martin Nolan imposed the maximum terms on one count and a consecutive one-year term on another.
Patrick Gageby SC, for Begley, said that to identify the offence with the very worst of circumstances, and then to go on and impose the maximum sentence despite the “very large amount” of material in mitigation, indicated an error in principle by Judge Nolan.
He said the sentence appeared to be the longest ever passed in a revenue matter.
Mr Gageby submitted that Judge Nolan made no reference to Begley’s plea of guilty in his sentencing remarks, which constituted a singular error in principle.
He said the sentencing judge had not paid due regard to the principle of proportionality by failing to identify the range of appropriate penalties available and where the offence lay on this range before going on to apply the mitigating factors in the case.
Mr Gageby said the counts on the indictment referred to a revenue liability of €300,000, and though the judge was told of a liability of €1.6m, there was an obligation to sentence only on the counts on the indictment.
Remy Farrell SC, for the State, told the court that one of the most important aspects to consider was the weight of evidence that went before the sentencing judge of the offences having been committed “for no reason other than greed”.
He said Begley’s plea was entered on the agreement that full facts would be heard, and the defence had introduced the matter of the €1.6m liability on the basis the court could take in to account the punitive aspect of the overall amount.
Mr Justice Liam McKechnie said the court would give its judgment soon.
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