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Dublin: 18 °C Wednesday 17 July, 2019
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Revenue worker who was fired after being caught 'red handed' selling contraband cigarettes loses appeal against dismissal

The details of the case are disclosed in a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ruling.

Image: Shutterstock/Ivan Masiuk

THE REVENUE COMMISSIONERS fired a member of one of its own audit teams for gross misconduct after he was caught ‘red-handed’ selling contraband cigarettes for cash.

In a ‘sting’ operation in 2018, the Special Compliance Branch at Revenue responded to an advert on Facebook offering cigarettes for sale.

As a result of the advert, the Revenue audit worker delivered the cigarettes on 5 January 2018 and the Revenue staff seized 400 cigarettes from him without an Irish Tax Stamp.

The man was sacked for gross misconduct in July 2018 after Revenue found that his actions breached Revenue’s Code of Ethics; compromised his standing within Revenue; and potentially imperilled the Revenue Commissioners’ good reputation.

The details of the case are disclosed in a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ruling where the worker has lost his claim for unfair dismissal.

The Revenue Commissioners pointed out to the WRC that its good reputation plays a key function in supporting voluntary compliance by its customers and Revenue staff rely upon this moral authority when confronting non-compliance.

Revenue pointed out that the worker’s role was part of an audit team in which it was his job to confront non-compliance within the Revenue’s rules.

Sale of contraband cigarettes

Revenue stated that the worker involved himself in the sale of contraband cigarettes contrary to the Finance Acts and Revenue’s rules which are the specific field of legislation and rules that he was employed to safeguard.

The audit worker – employed with Revenue since 2007 – stated that it was his girlfriend who posted on Facebook about the cigarettes and he merely assisted her.

However, Revenue stated that the complainant accepted that it was he who purchased and brought the cigarettes from Poland; who knowingly made the delivery of the contraband cigarettes on foot of interest shown in the Facebook advert; and who was directly involved in selling the contraband cigarettes for cash.

The man stated that “it was hard for him to say ‘no’ to his girlfriend when she asked him to become involved in the sale of the contraband cigarettes”.

The worker argued that the dismissal was unfair due to procedural shortcomings and that the decision to dismiss was unreasonable. However, WRC Adjudication Officer, Ewa Sobanska, found that the worker’s complaint of unfair dismissal is not well founded.

Sobanska stated that the worker’s assertion at the hearing “that the customs officers “are doing dirt on him” and “threw him under the bus” astonishing”.

She stated that the worker concerned “does not fully comprehend the seriousness and the consequences of his actions”.

She stated:

I am therefore not persuaded by the Complainant’s assertion that no further wrongdoing would arise in the future.

Ms Sobanska also stated:

I am satisfied that such a breach of rules as in the instant case could have very serious implications and cause reputational damage for the Respondent.

The case

In the case, the man said that in Christmas 2017, the worker and his girlfriend travelled to Poland.

The man’s girlfriend purchased three cartons of cigarettes and on their return, the man’s girlfriend advertised two cartons of cigarettes online and agreed to sell them.

The female asked her boyfriend to pass the cigarettes to the purchaser.

The complainant was aware that the actions of his girlfriend were unlawful and claimed that he was placed under pressure by her.

He stated that he reluctantly and foolishly agreed to help her.

The complainant had been promoted twice within Revenue and had an unblemished record of service.

The worker stated that there was a large number of mitigating factors in the case – his admissions from the outset; he did not attempt to cover up his conduct or deny it; his co-operation; his regret, remorse and apology for the incident and his embarrassment, stress and anxiety.

A spokesman for the Revenue Commissioners said on Monday that the dismissal was one of two dismissals of staff for serious misconduct in 2018.

He stated:

Revenue, as an employer will take action under the Civil Service Disciplinary Code against individual staff members where staff actions are considered serious misconduct as defined in the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour and Revenue’s Code of Ethics.

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About the author:

Gordon Deegan

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