A HIGHLY REGARDED GP who dodged the payment of almost €100,000 in income tax has been jailed for 16 months.
Dr Bassam Naser (51), of Howth Road, Sutton, Dublin, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to two charges of delivering an incorrect return in connection with his income tax affairs for the years 2006 and 2007.
The court heard that Naser had a hidden bank account into which he lodged 1,686 cheques that had been paid by his patients attending his clinic. He was due to pay almost €100,000 in income tax and now owes a further €200,000 in penalties and fees. He had a €100,000 cheque in court to pay the overdue tax.
When evidence was first heard yesterday, Naser’s wife of 24 years, and mother to their seven children, stood in the body of the court crying and asked Judge Martin Nolan for “mercy” before she was escorted out by her husband.
The judge had adjourned the case overnight to consider the case and had remanded the doctor on continuing bail.
Today Judge Nolan sentenced Naser to 16 months in prison after he described the offences as serious.
“An efficient and good tax system is vital to a good society,” the judge said, adding that it allowed for much needed services to be provided to the community.
He said Naser “failed abysmally” and was “morally reprehensible”.
“He is a very intelligent man. He knew what he was doing was wrong. He created a mechanism to avoid paying his taxes,” Judge Nolan continued.
The judge also noted that Revenue was reliant on the honesty of people who are self-assessed.
“It is the luck of the draw as to whether you are audited and I suspect audits are infrequent so Revenue are relying on the honesty of the tax payer,” the judge said.
He acknowledged that Dr Naser had “excellent mitigation” and accepted that there were “multiple impressive references from his patients”. He said that Naser was a good doctor and an advocate for his patients and that he was a community man who continued to do charity work for his native Palestine.
Judge Nolan said he was conscious of the doctor’s family circumstances and the fact that he had repaid €100,000 to Revenue but added “He knew what he was doing and yet he persisted”.
Secret bank account
Gerard Cosgrave, an assistant principal officer with the Revenue Commissioners, earlier told Tony McGillicuddy BL, prosecuting, that Naser was audited in 2008 and failed to disclose a bank account he held with Bank of Ireland.
In October 2009 he completed a statement of affairs outlining his assets and liabilities and again didn’t advise officers of this additional bank account. In April 2013 Bank of Ireland informed Revenue about the account and provided officers with statements.
Cosgrave said that 986 cheques totalling €88,762 were lodged to that account in 2006 and a further 700 cheques, totalling €71,189, were lodged into the account in 2007. Another account, in his wife’s name, also had undeclared cheques lodged into it.
Cosgrave told Judge Nolan that the total amount of income tax owed to Revenue was €99,435.11.
Naser was interviewed in March 2017 but claimed that everything that went through the practice was supplied to his tax agent. He made “no comment” when the “hidden bank account” was put to him, Cosgrave said.
Kerida Naidoo SC, defending, said that his client arrived in Ireland as a refugee from Palestine 30 years ago and, with financial assistance from his parents, studied at the Royal Academy of Medicine. He began working as a GP in 1998.
Counsel handed in a “bundle of testimonials” from numerous patients who attended at Naser’s clinic over the years.
Many of these patients spoke about how they have left the area but still travel to be treated by Naser. People spoke of how “he goes above and beyond for all of us” and a number of patients stated that they didn’t believe they, or a loved one, would still be alive if it had not been for Naser’s care.
Naidoo also pointed out to Judge Nolan that a number of the testimonies spoke of how Naser didn’t charge them for the additional care and aftercare he provided them.
Damage to reputation
Counsel said that Naser’s practice work was almost 50% work for the HSE and 50% work from private patients. He submitted that should his client be left at his liberty, he would be in a position to pay the additional fines and penalties he incurred, through his work.
Naidoo said his client would also suffer “a loss of reputation” because of the media attention the case would attract and noted that he would probably lose potential patients.
“He did something seriously wrong. He admits that he has done wrong. He has no previous convictions and is paying the financial punishment that goes with it,” counsel submitted.
Naidoo said his client had worked hard, had made meaningful contributions to his community and people depended on him for medical care. “More good can be done for everyone by not sending him to prison,” counsel said.
When asked by Judge Nolan what he had to say about the need to imprison an accused to act as a deterrent to others, Naidoo replied: “A rational-thinking person, looking at the evidence of the case, will be deterred because of all of the realities my client is now facing.”