‘Slab’ must wait to hear outcome of appeal
Prominent Republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy must wait to hear the outcome of his appeal against conviction for evading tax on income from a farming trade.
The 67-year-old, whose farm at Ballybinaby, Hackballscross, Co Louth, straddles the border with Northern Ireland, had pleaded not guilty at the non-jury Special Criminal Court to nine charges of failing to comply with tax laws in the Irish Republic for the years 1996/97 to 2004.
The three-judge Special Criminal Court found Murphy guilty on all counts and he was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment on February 26 last.
Murphy moved to appeal his conviction on Tuesday on 48 grounds in 357 pages of written submissions. The Court of Appeal reserved judgment today.
His barrister, John Kearney QC, told the Court of Appeal on Wednesday that Thomas Murphy had nothing to do with cattle farming and that the authorities went after him for tax his brother Patrick had already paid.
Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Paul Burns SC, told the three-judge court today/yesterday(THURSDAY) that this was a simple case.
Mr Burns said a farming trade was ostensibly conducted in the name of Thomas Murphy and a bank account in the name of Thomas Murphy was used for payments in relation to a herd in the name of Thomas Murphy.
He's renting land, he's applying for a herd number, he's signing forms, Mr Burns said.
In its verdict, the Special Criminal Court stated: 'Here's the findings of fact and here's the evidence we found probative in that regard'. It didn't have to recite all of the evidence, Mr Burns submitted.
The Special Criminal Court relied on certificates, it referred to witness evidence, it referred to documentary evidence in the form of cheques, the bank account, the application for a herd number, an accounting book and diaries.
“What more can you ask for,” Mr Burns submitted.
Mr Burns said Thomas Murphy was a chargeable person – he was someone in receipt or was entitled to the income of a farming trade.
Secondly, it was never in dispute that Thomas Murphy had not made returns.
That left intent and in that regard the Special Criminal Court referred to evidence of Thomas Murphy being engaged in farming activities.
At its height, the defence case may have shown that Thomas Murphy's brother, Patrick Murphy, may have completed some of the paperwork, Mr Burns said.
But that didn't impact on the question the court had to deal with namely who was benefiting - who was receiving income. And it didn't impact on the question of whether Thomas Murphy was engaged in farming.
It didn't impact on the fact that money was going in and out of the bank account. And it didn't impact on the fact that Thomas Murphy's account was being used for his own purposes including financing his pension, Mr Burns said.
He said the hypothesis put forward by the defence was “speculation upon speculation”.
Murphy's barrister, John Kearney QC, told the three-judge court that Patrick Murphy was in control of the farm from before 1991 until the present time.
Mr Kearney said documents on the movement of cattle lead to a position, which could not be disproved, that Patrick Murphy was in charge of “all this”. He was the “man in the fields” in ongoing control. All of the documents, all of the cheques “turn up in his shed”, Mr Kearney said.
Cheques from cattle sales were going into a particular account. But the evidence demonstrated a “real possibility” that Patrick Murphy operated the account not Thomas Murphy, Mr Kearney said.
Patrick Murphy was 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.
A forensic accountant was of the belief that Patrick Murphy had, during the timeframe of the charges, been using accounts of other persons. In other words, Patrick Murphy had a propensity to use bank accounts of other people, which was significant, counsel said.
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 brothers name, counsel suggested.
In reference to certain transactions, Mr Kearney said a witness gave evidence that Patrick Murphy “probably” forged or filled in the body of these documents.
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.
No matter what level of analysis you do, “Patrick Murphy lurks”.
This was the type of joined up analytical work the Special Criminal Court should have done.
It was “staggering” that having brought the courts attention to this analysis, the court didn't mention “any of it” in its verdict.
Counsel submitted that in a circumstantial case, the Special Criminal Court was duty bound to “put the jigsaw together” but the court took seven pieces of the prosecution jigsaw and totally disregarded the alternative.
Reserving judgment, President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Seán Ryan, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the court would deliver its decision as soon as it could.
Last December, following 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.
The court had heard evidence that the Cab's assessment of Murphy's tax bill is worth 5,344,157 Euro and that from farming income, the issue for which Murphy was tried before the court, he owes 189,964 Euro.
The estimated loss to Revenue is based on the "notional figure" of 15,000 Euro or 15,000 Irish Pounds per year profit from Murphy's farming business, the court had 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 Euro. 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 Euro and 111,185 Pounds Sterling, as well as uncashed cheques worth 579,000 Euro, 80,000 Pounds Sterling and 24,000 Irish Pounds.
Evidence from livestock mart managers was that Murphy purchased cattle with a total value of over 500,000 Euro. Meat factory managers told the court that he sold cattle with a total value of over 200,000 Euro.
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.
Passing sentence at the non-jury Special Criminal Court in February, presiding judge Mr Justice Paul Butler said the court's decision was not influenced by the publicity surrounding the trial.
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 Murphy as a “farmer and cattle dealer,” the judge said.
After sentencing, in a statement issued via his solicitor, Murphy had said he maintains his innocence and had instructed his legal team to "pursue an appeal immediately".