Alleged former IRA leader bids to block tax-evasion trial

The alleged former leader of the IRA today launched a legal battle to block his trial for tax evasion.

The alleged former leader of the IRA today launched a legal battle to block his trial for tax evasion.

Thomas “Slab” Murphy accused Irish state lawyers of abusing the rules of justice after they gave his solicitor just four minutes’ notice when they applied to bring the case before a non-jury court.

The 58-year-old farmer and republican – who last month handed over a near €1.2m criminal-assets portfolio to authorities – faces nine charges of failing to file returns on his income, profits or gains over eight years from 1996.

Murphy’s lawyers told Dublin’s High Court that his solicitor, Paul Tiernan, was not aware state lawyers were preparing to apply for the non-jury trial.

Barrister Michael O’Higgins, senior counsel for Murphy, said the application was made at a special 9am sitting of Dundalk District Court one Monday morning last January.

Even though Mr Tiernan argued on the phone for state solicitors to adjourn, the hearing went ahead and the case was sent for trial at the Special Criminal Court which usually deals with terrorists.

“It’s agreed that my solicitor protested in fairly strong terms that he regarded four minutes’ notice to a court application of this sort to be utterly inadequate,” said Mr O’Higgins.

Mr O’Higgins claimed that the order made in Dundalk was invalid as it was made in their absence.

The barrister said the move was a breach of statute and Murphy’s constitutional rights, and accused the State of abusing the courts process.

“It acted in a manner which was unfair, unjust and unreasonable,” he added.

The barrister said the move was a breach of statute and Murphy’s constitutional rights, and accused the State of abusing the courts process.

“It acted in a manner which was unfair, unjust and unreasonable,” he added.

The reclusive Murphy was not in the High Court as the judicial review was launched.

Mr Justice Iarlaith O’Neill was told that two faxes relating to the special 9am hearing in Dundalk were sent to Mr Tiernan’s office on Friday January 10 after it closed at 5pm.

Mr O’Higgins said the first Mr Tiernan knew about the listing was at 8.56am the following Monday morning when State solicitor Michael O’Donovan called him from the court.

He said Mr Tiernan, who was dealing with a case in another town, dictated two letters which were faxed to the courthouse and Chief State Solicitors Office (CSSO) at 9.25am, objecting as he could not be present to make a submission.

Mr O’Higgins said that, although the special sitting did not actually start until 9.30am, Judge Flan Brennan was not made aware of the fax and returned Murphy for trial.

Concerns by the accused’s legal team were raised when he appeared before the Special Criminal Court later that month and an application was later lodged to appeal against the order in the High Court.

Today’s judicial review – which is being taken against the Special Criminal Court and Judge Brennan – will decide if a full appeal will be allowed.

Paul Burns, senior counsel for the State, told Mr Justice O’Neill that, although the applicant had been given short notice of the court hearing, the order made on the day was still valid.

Last month Murphy, his brothers Frank and Patrick, and the Ace Oils fuel company agreed to give up cash, cheques and properties to Irish and British revenue officers after they were targeted over a massive smuggling racket operating on both sides of the Irish border.

More than €625,000 in cash and cheques were confiscated in Ireland while nine properties in north-west England worth €573,000 were recovered by UK authorities.

Gardaí said the settlement was the culmination of a global crime and fraud investigation into the proceeds of crime.

The three men had been under investigation since March 2006 when “Slab” Murphy’s farm in Ballybinaby, Hackballscross, straddling the border between Louth and Armagh, was raided.

It was one of 15 residential and business properties searched.

More than €175,000 in mixed currencies, 30,000 cigarettes and 8,000 litres of fuel were seized while 30 archive boxes of documents, three tankers and a truck with a fourth tanker concealed inside were impounded.

An oil-laundering unit was also seized.

During court hearings in Dublin, officers from Ireland’s Criminal Assets Bureau claimed the Murphy brothers had been involved in fuel smuggling for 20 years.

At the time, “Slab” Murphy was also being probed by the UK’s Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) over house sales in Greater Manchester.

Investigations focused solely on Murphy’s retired brother, Francis, and his wife, Judy, who were named in a court order seizing nine houses and business premises in the city.

The ARA, which merged into the Serious and Organised Crime Agency this year, claimed the married couple built their property portfolio on wealth made from money laundering and fuel smuggling in Ireland.

Irish tax officials have also been pursuing Patrick and Frank Murphy for tax irregularities on top of the Cab and Soca probes.

It is understood they are in the final stages of settling a bill worth around €1m with the Irish Exchequer.

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