Big rise in people jailed for serious tax offences

More people were jailed for serious tax offences last year than in the three years between 2008 and 2011.

Figures compiled by the Revenue Commissioners indicate the courts have begun a crackdown on those engaged in white-collar crime by handing down jail terms to convicted tax evaders on a more regular basis.

Prison sentences were imposed on 19 individuals convicted of serious tax evasion in 2012, compared to 14 for the same offence over the previous four years.

The Revenue figures also highlight how a greater proportion of people successfully prosecuted for tax offences are likely to spend some time in prison.

Last year 38% of all individuals convicted for serious tax evasions were sent to jail compared to an 18% average for the 2008-2011 period.

Legal sources said the trend towards higher imprisonment rates for tax offences was probably due to a general increase in the number of prosecutions for white-collar crime and larger financial sums involved in such cases.

“It probably also shows the judiciary are reflecting society’s own shift in attitude towards tax evasion where it is no longer regarded as a victimless crime,” said one barrister.

A total of 50 convictions for serious tax evasion were secured by Revenue last year — the highest number in a single year over the past decade. Such cases also resulted in fines of €460,000 being imposed on offenders.

They included the record six-year sentence handed down by the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in Mar 2012 to Dublin businessman Paul Begley over a €1.6m garlic import duty scam.

However, Mr Begley had his jail term reduced to two years by the Court of Criminal Appeal earlier this month, following a successful appeal on grounds that the original sentence was excessive and disproportionate.

The Court of Criminal Appeal observed in its recent ruling that tax evasion remains a “serious matter”.

In addition to the 19 individuals given a jail sentence in 2012, a further 21 convicted offenders were given a suspended sentence.

Revenue has also revealed it had 156 other cases involving alleged serious tax evasion on hand at the start of 2013.

However, the number of summary prosecutions for tax offences at District Court level last year fell by 9% to 1,576 cases — two-thirds of which related to a failure to file tax returns. Fines totalling €4.26m were imposed by the courts in such cases.

In addition, 717 individuals or firms had financial penalties totalling €2.8m imposed for the non-filing of P35 and Vat returns in 2012 — an average of €3,900 per case.

Revenue imposed penalties worth €26.2m as a result of audits on almost 3,500 taxpayers — an average of €7,512 per case.

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