Thomas 'Slab' Murphy to be sentenced for tax evasion


Alleged former IRA chief Thomas "Slab" Murphy faces a sentencing hearing in the Irish courts today for tax evasion.

The 66-year-old from a sprawling farm along the border with Northern Ireland in Ballibinaby, Hackballscross, Co Louth, could be jailed for five years after being found guilty last December.

Murphy has been described by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams as a good republican while Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, said peace was only secured thanks to support from men like him.

In 1998 he lost a libel action against the Sunday Times which described him as a senior IRA figure.

Murphy was convicted on nine charges of tax evasion following a 32-day trial at Dublin's non-jury Special Criminal Court.

The court found he did not furnish Ireland's Revenue authorities with a return of income, profits or gains or the sources of them over eight years from 1996 to 2004.

The trial heard that Murphy received 100,000 euro (£73,000) in farm grants and paid out 300,000 euro (£220,000) to rent land.

And he was involved in hundreds of thousands of euro worth of cattle deals, buying and selling animals at marts up and down the country.

Murphy's annual income from the farm was estimated at 15,000 euro (£11,000).

He was charged with five counts under the Republic's Taxes Consolidation Act and four under the Finance Act that he knowingly and wilfully failed to make tax returns and did so without reasonable excuses.

Murphy denied all counts but the court rejected defence claims that it was his brother Patrick who ran the farming operation and controlled the finances.

It also rejected claims that Murphy's signature was forged on documents linking him to the farm and earnings.

Judge Paul Butler, presiding in the three-judge court, has asked prosecution lawyers to use today's hearing to detail sanctions imposed for similar convictions and show how other cases relate to the Murphy prosecution.

The court is also expected to be told the loss to the exchequer from the eight years of tax fraud and any previous convictions Murphy has will be taken into account.

In the conviction ruling, Judge Butler said that reports before and during the trial about Murphy's "unconnected activities" had no bearing on the judgment.

Charged with the tax fraud in November 2007, Murphy took legal challenges all the way to Ireland's Supreme Court in unsuccessfully attempts to stop the trial from being held in front of three judges in the non-jury Special Criminal Court. 

During the trial statements taken a number of years earlier were accepted as evidence after discrepancies emerged in witness testimony.

The sentencing is expected to lead to deep criticism of Sinn Fein as Ireland is in the midst of a general election campaign.

The party has said they would abolish the Special Criminal Court if in Government, citing opposition to non-jury trials by the United Nations, Amnesty International, Mary Robinson and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.