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Dublin businessman fradulently reclaimed thousands of euro in VAT

CourtsBy Sunday World
Patrick Chambers
Patrick Chambers

A businessman, who fraudulently reclaimed VAT after falling into "dire financial circumstances" with a development project when the housing market collapsed, has avoided a jail term.

Dubliner Patrick Chambers (65) committed the offences to generate funds after falling into difficulty with a large loan he had taken out to develop a second property on the grounds of his family home.

Chambers of Brennanstown Vale, Foxrock pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to four counts of claiming repayment of Value Added Tax (VAT) to which he was not entitled on dates between July 2009 and March 2010 and to producing an incorrect invoice in connection with VAT in July 2012.

The total loss to the exchequer was €35,780. Chambers has no previous convictions.

Shane Costelloe SC, defending, submitted that Chambers had not taken out the loan to "make a quick buck" but to meet costs that arose following the end of his marriage and that he was anxious to repay the money.

He said Chambers was a talented software engineer who had once employed 170 people before his company was bought out, and that some form of community-based work may be appropriate.

Judge Melanie Greally at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court had adjourned the case last April, having heard evidence and ordered that Chamber's suitability for community service be assessed.

She said today that it was "not an opportunistic crime", accepting that it was driven by "financial desperation" following a significant decline in his financial situation.

Judge Greally said Chambers had been a successful businessman but was now "for all intents and purposes, insolvent". She noted, having considered reports before the court, that his "dishonesty weighs heavily on his conscious" and he was committed to making restitution.

She sentenced Chambers to 12 months in prison which she suspended in full, on condition that he pay €7,000 per year for five years to Revenue.

Judge Greally noted that a report from the Probation Service deemed Chambers suitable for community service and ordered that he carry out 240 hours community work in 12 months.

John O'Reilly of the Revenue Commissioners told Lisa Dempsey BL, prosecuting, that following a series of audits relating to Chambers they launched an investigation in 2012.

Revenue established that Chambers had reclaimed VAT to which he was not entitled by double counting invoices, creating invoices from himself to himself and fraudulently creating invoices.

Chambers was fully co-operative and told the investigation he had committed the offences because he was desperate for money as he was in "dire financial circumstances".

Mr O'Reilly agreed with Mr Costelloe that Chamber's early guilty plea was especially useful as the trial would have been complex and it would have been difficult to convey the evidence to the jury in a way they would understand.

Mr Costelloe said the genesis of the offences was the collapse of the property market at the end of 2008. He said Chambers had separated from his wife in better economic times and had bought his wife out of her share of the family home.

He also had responsibilities towards the upkeep of his children. Counsel said Chambers took out a loan of €1million to develop a property at the back of the family home with a view to selling it for a profit.

Mr Costelloe said that at the time, due to the prices given for "large opulent houses" in the area, he would have been able to clear the loan. However, when the market crashed and the bank sought their money back, he lost the development as well as his family home. He has since sold the family home.

He said it was during this period that Chambers committed the offences and he was, to all intents and purposes, bankrupt.

Counsel handed in a number of reports and submitted that Chambers was at low risk of re-offending. He fully accepted responsibility for what he did and was deeply remorseful.

Mr Costelloe said Chambers was anxious to repay the money. He submitted a custodial sentence was not necessary to send a message about these types of crime.

Fiona Ferguson/Sonya McLean