The owner of a fish and chip shop in Bantry has been given a four-month jail sentence on four counts of failing to make VAT returns to the Revenue Commissioners.
Judge James McNulty at Skibbereen District Court also imposed penalties amounting to €20,000 on Catherine Wharton of 2 New Street, Bantry, in respect of four additional charges.
State solicitor Malachy Boohig, instructed by the DPP, brought eight sample charges against the accused on behalf of the Revenue Commissioners.
Four were brought in respect of offences prior to 2016 and a further four – to which Catherine Wharton pleaded guilty – were in respect of offences committed after 2016.
When the case first came before Bantry District Court at the end of January, Judge McNulty imposed the maximum penalty of €5,000 in respect of each of the eight charges, amounting to €40,000.
Later that day, the judge decided to ‘vacate the order’ and the case was put back to Skibbereen Court on Tuesday in order to re-examine the issue of mitigation, and whether or not the accused was entitled to have any of the penalties reduced.
Mr Boohig said each penalty could – at the judge’s discretion – be mitigated by as much as 75%, but he said the penalty could also result in a prison sentence of up to 12 months.
Letty Baker, solicitor for the accused, called accountant Seamus O’Brien to confirm her client’s earlier testimony that she only took over the business with her sister, Mary Wharton, in mid-2016 and was not liable for the earlier offences.
But revenue inspector Thomas Ryan said the accused was a director of Wharton’s prior to 2016, and of the 31 VAT returns due – from when the business was established in 2013 – only three were ever made.
Ms Baker said all returns have since been filed, but it was confirmed that three of these showed a ‘nil’ return, despite the fact that the business was trading at the time.
Ms Baker submitted that the amount due was in the region of €24,000, and that the sum of €14,000 had been paid – although some of it admittedly was collected by the sheriff on behalf of the Revenue Commissioners – leaving €10,000 still owing.
The tax inspector disputed some of the submissions and said that one cheque issued by Catherine Wharton actually bounced.
Judge McNulty described the fish and chip takeaway and restaurant as ‘a cash rich business with significant cash flow’ and he said Catherine Wharton took ‘a cavalier approach to her legal and civil obligations.’
He said her offences were ‘an affront to all those who do pay their taxes from their wages and salaries every day and every month.’ He also said it was ‘an affront to all tax compliant businesses, and a betrayal to all those customers who paid VAT on the fish and chips and soft drinks they purchased at Wharton’s at New Street in Bantry.’
Ms Baker pointed out that the judge had vacated his previous order on the grounds of mitigation, but instead of reducing one, or more, penalties he had ordered Catherine Wharton be incarcerated.
She said the four-month sentences – all of which are to run concurrent – were imposed on charges to which her client had entered a guilty plea. She asked for recognisances to be fixed for an appeal and the accused was released on bail.