Updated at 1.37pm
PROMINENT REPUBLICAN THOMAS ‘Slab’ Murphy has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for tax evasion estimated to be worth almost €190,000.
At the non-jury Special Criminal Court today, presiding judge Mr Justice Paul Butler said that the court’s decision was not influenced by the publicity surrounding the trial.
The court tried Murphy as a “farmer and cattle dealer”, the judge said.
After sentencing, in a statement issued via his solicitor, Murphy said he maintains his innocence and has instructed his legal team to “pursue an appeal immediately”.
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.
A fortnight ago, the court heard evidence 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.
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.
From 1996 to 2004, he received grants from the Department of Agriculture totalling over €100,000. The payments were made for farming grant schemes including the Slaughter Premium Scheme, the Special Beef Premium and EU Area Aid.
The court also heard of a search carried out by the Cab in March 2006 in an outhouse on the border with Northern Ireland, when 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.
Evidence from livestock mart managers was that Murphy purchased cattle with a total value of over €500,000. Meat factory managers told the court that he sold cattle with a total value of over €200,000.
The court also heard evidence of a bank account opened in Murphy’s name which, at the judgement hearing last December, Mr Justice Butler said was “operated by [Murphy] to his benefit”.
Murphy’s defence lawyers had 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
At today’s sentence hearing, Mr Justice Butler said that, during the trial, “some commentary referred to other unconnected matters” and that the court was “aware of the publicity”.
“It has no bearing on the revenue charges brought against [Murphy},” the judge said, adding that the court was “in no way influenced” by the publicity.
The court tried the accused as a farmer and cattle dealer.
Mr Justice Butler said that the court was not punishing Murphy because he had denied the charges but that, if he had pleaded guilty, that would have been a significant mitigating factor.
Mitigating factors, the judge said, were Murphy’s age, his lack of previous convictions, the “relatively small” sum of money owed to Revenue, the considerable time spent on bail and his current employment as a yardsman.
Previously, the court heard that Murphy is currently employed as a yardsman at C&F Productions in Crossmaglen, Co Tyrone, with a salary of £1,055 gross income per month.
The court sentenced Murphy to 18 months prison for each of the nine charges, with each sentence to run concurrently, and dating from today.
No assets, no fine
Mr Justice Butler said that the court had considered imposing a fine but because Murphy had no assets they decided to not do so.
He said there was no basis for suspending the sentence and that community service was not appropriate.
Earlier, John Kearney QC, for Murphy, submitted to the court that “one further mitigating point” in the case was that Murphy did not give evidence during the course of the trial.
Mr Kearney referred to a Court of Criminal Appeal ruling involving Perry Wharrie, an Englishman jailed for a the largest drug seizure in the history of the State.
The Wharrie ruling was made on 15 February, after Murphy’s original sentence hearing on 12 February.
Prosecuting counsel Paul Burns SC said that “a decision not to give evidence might be for entirely tactical or self-serving reasons”.
After brief deliberation, the judges said that the submission made “no difference to judgement”.
In a statement released after he was sentenced, Murphy said:
I am an Irish Republican and have been all my life. For many years now I have been the subject of serial, prejudicial and wholly inaccurate commentary and media coverage.
There have also been repeated assertions that I have amassed properties and wealth. This is utterly untrue. I do not own any property at all and I have no savings.
Further, with regard to my recent trial it was alleged by one broadcaster that two people who had given statements to An Gárda Síochána felt unable to give evidence in court and there was a suggestion of intimidation of these witnesses.
This is absolutely untrue. The witnesses did give evidence. The prosecution’s legal team did not even allege there was witness intimidation.
Murphy was referring to two witnesses, Brian Garvey and Patrick Flanagan, whose statements to gardaí were read into evidence at the trial under a Section 16 application, which allows for a witness’ statement to be read into evidence if there is an inconsistency between evidence given in court and a statement given to gardaí.
At the judgement hearing in December, Mr Justice Butler said that the statements represented the “true state of affairs”, which was that Murphy was involved in the farming business.
Murphy’s statement continues: “Despite never having been questioned by An Gárda Síochána in relation to Revenue matters I was arrested, charged and put on trial in the Special Criminal Court for failing to file tax returns in respect of farming.
“The case presented against me was that tax returns with an average liability of €4,279 tax per annum should have been filed by me over a 9-year period in relation to farming.
The evidence called by the prosecution showed that Tax returns were made by family members in respect of the farm, and that all tax on any profit from farming has been paid.
“I maintain my innocence in respect of these charges which date back 20 years. Naturally I am very disappointed at the verdict of the court and have instructed my legal team to pursue an appeal immediately.”
With reporting by Cianan Brennan