THE SENTENCING OF Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy has been postponed until Friday 26 February – the day of the general election.
The high-profile republican was convicted of tax offences in December of last year.
During today’S sentence hearing, the Special Criminal Court heard that Murphy owes Revenue almost €190,000 in unpaid taxes for his farming business on the border with Northern Ireland.
The court also heard that Murphy now works as a yards man for a company in Crossmaglen, where as a PAYE employee he earns €1,055 per month.
In December, after a 32-day trial, Murphy was found guilty of nine charges of failing to furnish a return of his income, profits or gains or the source of his income, profits or gains to the Collector General or the Inspector of Taxes for the years 1996/97 to 2004.
During the trial, the court heard evidence that, although Murphy conducted dealings in relation to cattle and land, and received farming grants from the Department of Agriculture, he failed to make any returns to revenue.
At today’s sentence hearing, Detective Inspector Kevin Ring, a Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) officer, told prosecuting counsel Paul Burns the court that in 2006 he was part of a team which investigated a number of people on the border with Northern Ireland.
During a search of a cattle shed, the court heard, Cab investigators seized a large volume of documents and ledgers, cash worth €256,235 and £111,185, as well as uncashed cheques worth €579,000, £80,000 and £24,000 (Irish pounds).
The documents and ledgers related to cattle trade conducted by Murphy, Det Insp Ring told Mr Burns, and the entries in the ledgers did not follow normal accountancy procedures.
The documentation also included records from Murphy’s bank account and an Irish Life pension policy, as well as records of payments made by Department of Agriculture to Murphy worth over €100,000.
The detective told the court that the Cab’s assessment of Murphy’s tax bill is worth €5,344,157 and that from farming income, the issue for which Murphy was tried before the court, he owes €189,964.
The estimated loss to Revenue is based on the “notional figure” of €15,000 or £15,000 (Irish pounds) per year profit from Murphy’s farming business, the court heard.
Mr Burns then provided the three judges with relevant case law in order to assist in sentencing Murphy.
The court heard of ten previous cases involving similar offences, including that of Paul Begley, the Dublin businessman who was jailed for a €1.6 million fraud involving the importation of garlic from China.
Mr Burns said that mitigating circumstances in these previous cases involved restitution, admission of guilt, expression of remorse, absence of previous convictions and the identification of documents by the accused that might never have otherwise surfaced.
There has been no restitution in Murphy’s case, the court heard.
Mr Burns also provided the court with a representative sample of sentences imposed for the type of charge of which Murphy is convicted.
John Kearney QC, for Murphy, told the court that it was “an unusual case”.
He said that there are “blurred lines and grey areas surrounding the farming unit, the family unit”.
More evidence about brother
During the trial, Murphy claimed that his brother, Patrick, was in control of the farming activities and was therefore the chargeable person. A chargeable person is a person who is chargeable to tax on income.
Mr Kearney said that there is “a clear distinction” between the Cab’s assessment of Murphy’s tax bill, which “runs into the millions”, and the money owed from Murphy’s farming business.
The Cab’s notice of assessment, he said, is being pursued on the civil side and is “another day’s work”.
Mr Kearney said that the figure of €189,000 represents the “high water mark” in terms of loss to the State.
He said that these figures have “completely frail foundations” and that their “first flowering” was in the evidence of a Revenue Bureau Officer, who accepted that the figures were a “general estimate”.
The figures are “factually non-specific”, Mr Kearney said, adding that they were a “guesstimate” and had a “slightly nonsensical basis”.
Presiding judge Mr Justice Paul Butler said, “He [the Revenue Bureau Officer] wouldn’t have to make a guesstimate if the returns had been made.”
Describing the farm at Ballybinaby, Mr Kearney said that it was “generally a loss-making business”.
He then went on the describe his client’s personal circumstances, telling the court that Murphy is currently employed as a yards man at C&F Productions in Crossmaglen, Co Tyrone, where, as a PAYE employee, he earns €1,055 gross income per month.
Mr Kearney also said he hopes that in sentencing Murphy the court will take into account the fact that the charges were “hanging over him” for 10 years.
“That is a considerable impact on anyone,” he added.
Mr Justice Butler, presiding with Judge John O’Hagan and Judge Anne Ryan, remanded Murphy on continuing bail until 26 February.