Prominent republican appeals tax evasion conviction

November 14, 2016

tThe Court of Appeal in Dublin began hearing prominent republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy’s appeal against his tax evasion conviction last week.

The 67-year-old, whose farm at Ballybinaby, Hackballscross, Co Louth, straddles the border with Northern Ireland, is also appealing the 18-month sentence handed down earlier this year.

In February this year, Murphy pleaded not guilty at the non-jury Special Criminal Court to nine charges of failing to comply with tax laws for the years 1996/97 to 2004. He maintained he had been the victim of identity theft and that it was his brother who ran the farm.

The three-judge Special Criminal Court found Murphy guilty on all counts and he was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.

His bid to overturn the verdict began in the Appeal Court in Dublin on Tuesday last, with defence barrister, John Kearney, claiming the court relied on a “fatal finding of fact” which could not be further from the truth.

Murphy was found to owe the Irish exchequer taxes, penalties and interest of almost €190,000 (£147,000) and was charged with knowingly and wilfully failing to make tax returns and did so without reasonable excuses.

The trial court found he did not furnish Ireland’s Revenue authorities with a return of income, profits or gains or the sources of them over the period but received €100,000 (£73,000) in farm grants and paid out €300,000 (£220,000) to rent land.

Appealing the conviction last week, his barrister said, “The Special Criminal Court got it wrong.”

Mr Kearney added there was no evidence that his client had applied for a herd grant and claimed there was a, “total misunderstanding by the prosecution side and the court that Tom Murphy signed the form at the farm.”

He said two application forms for a grant had contributed to the alleged misunderstanding which the defence barrister described as a “dangerous uncertainty,” which had “led the court astray.” He said there was no way of knowing whether the alleged misunderstanding had infected the rest of the evidence.

He claimed that reasonable doubt had not been properly considered and that tax due on income was paid by members of the accused’s family.

The lawyer also challenged the court’s finding on pre-signed blank cheques in the case, claiming there was a “never-extinguishable possibility of reasonable doubt that these signatures are also forged.”

On Wednesday Mr Kearney told the Court of Appeal his client had nothing to do with cattle farming and that his brother, Patrick Murphy, was in control of the farm from before 1991 until the present time. He said the authorities went after Thomas Murphy for tax his brother Patrick had already paid.

The barrister said documents on the movement of cattle lead to a position, which could not be disproved, that Patrick Murphy was in charge of the farm.

Mr Kearney said a reasonable inference could be drawn from the documents that Thomas Murphy had nothing to do with cattle farming and Patrick Murphy used his name.  He also cited a witness who gave evidence that Patrick Murphy “probably” forged or completed the body of documents involved in such transactions.

In relation to the banking evidence, the Prosecution’s position was “follow the money”, Mr Kearney said.

The barrister said cheques from cattle sales were going into a bank account where the evidence demonstrated a “real possibility” that Patrick Murphy operated the account not Thomas Murphy.

According to Mr Kearney, Patrick Murphy was said to be no stranger to the Dundalk bank branch in question because he had another account there and there was no evidence Thomas Murphy ever set foot in that branch.

The defence counsel said a forensic accountant was of the belief that Patrick Murphy had, during the timeframe of the charges, been using accounts of other persons, which suggested that “If Patrick Murphy was the sort of person who would put his farm into his wife’s name, he might also put a farm into his brother’s name.”

No matter what level of analysis you do, “Patrick Murphy lurks”, stated Mr Kearney, who added that this type of “joined up analytical” work should have been carried out by the Special Criminal Court.

In 357 pages of written submissions, Murphy’s lawyers have filed 48 grounds of appeal.

The hearing before President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Seán Ryan, Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice John Edwards is expected to continue this week.