Republican Thomas 'Slab' Murphy jailed for tax evasion
ALLEGED former IRA leader Thomas 'Slab' Murphy was behind bars for the first time yesterday.
After being jailed for 18 months for tax evasion, the Co Louth bachelor farmer and self-confessed republican protested his innocence and denied being at the head of a property empire.
The 66-year-old was found guilty of nine charges at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin.
Murphy, from Ballybinaby, Hackballscross, close to the border, was found to owe the Irish exchequer taxes, penalties and interest of almost €190,000 (£147,000) for tax dodging from 1996-2004.
In a statement, the alleged Provo chief said he would appeal and criticised investigations into him, the trial and the media.
"I am an Irish Republican and have been all my life," Murphy said.
"For many years now I have been the subject of serial, prejudicial and wholly inaccurate commentary and media coverage. There have also been repeated assertions that I have amassed properties and wealth.
"This is utterly untrue. I do not own any property at all and I have no savings."
Murphy was jailed for 18 months for each of the nine counts of tax evasion, with the terms to run concurrently, meaning he could be eligible for release in a year.
He has no previous convictions.
Judge Paul Butler, presiding in the three-judge court, noted the publicity around the trial but insisted reports of Murphy's republican links did not sway the verdict or the sentencing.
"This court must and does treat the accused as a farmer and cattle dealer with no other connections, past or present," he said.
The judges said they took into account Murphy's age, his clean record, that he had been on bail for several years which would have impacted his life and that he had continued to work in steady employment as he awaited trial.
Judge Butler also said the total proven tax evasion was "relatively small for such a long period".
Murphy was sentenced in the non-jury court, which normally deals with paramilitary and gangland trials, as the Republic's voters cast their general election ballots.
After voting in Co Louth, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who had described Murphy as a "good republican", was asked if he thought the sentence would have any influence on voters' choices.
"It shouldn't have, but we'll see," he said.
Mr Adams also declined to comment on the timing of the sentencing.
The penalties for Murphy's tax offences could have been as much as five years in jail or fines of up to €100,000 (£77,800).
The farmer, who has no previous convictions and works as a yardsman for a business in Crossmaglen, south Armagh, did not give evidence during the 32-day trial.
The trial heard that the total tax bill for the nine years was €38,519.56 (about £30,000), and interest built up on those unpaid bills was €151,445.10 (about £117,000), taking the final amount owed to €189,964.66.
The court found he did not furnish the Republic'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.
In 1998, Murphy lost a £1 million libel action against the Sunday Times which described him as a senior IRA figure.
In his statement issued by his legal team, Murphy further denied two witnesses had been intimidated during the trial - a vet and a landowner he rented land from.
"This is absolutely untrue. The witnesses did give evidence. The prosecution's legal team did not even allege there was witness intimidation," he said.
Murphy also criticised the investigation by Revenue chiefs and the Garda.
"Despite never having been questioned by An Garda Siochana in relation to Revenue matters, I was arrested, charged and put on trial in the Special Criminal Court for failing to file tax returns in respect of farming," he said.
"The case presented against me was that tax returns with an average liability of €4,279 tax per annum should have been filed by me over a nine-year period in relation to farming.
"The evidence called by the prosecution showed that tax returns were made by family members in respect of the farm, and that all tax on any profit from farming has been paid.
"I maintain my innocence in respect of these charges which date back 20 years.
"Naturally I am very disappointed at the verdict of the court and have instructed my legal team to pursue an appeal immediately."
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said the rule of law must apply to everyone.
"Depriving the Irish state of tax revenue to fund hospitals, schools or jobs is not a republican value," he said.
He added: "Any attempt to undermine the judgment of the court for political purposes is a dangerous precedent and would prove a party unfit to govern fairly."
DUP leader Arlene Foster said most people "will celebrate seeing justice done".
"Whilst some people refer to Murphy as a 'good republican' the people of this area know him to be a criminal," she said.
Ulster Unionist assembly member Danny Kennedy said: "Many people may feel that sentence is relatively light but it is welcome nonetheless, given the long-standing and widespread concerns about levels of criminality along the border, much of which involves the evasion of taxes and duty to be paid".