Extradition ordered of man with Limerick address who was ‘controlling mind’ in £20m tax scam

Olga Cronin

Reporter:

Olga Cronin

The High Court has ordered the extradition of Daniel O’Connell, with an address at Ballybrack, Clonlara, Co Clare and Roseneath, Corbally, Co Limerick

The High Court has ordered the extradition of Daniel O’Connell, with an address at Ballybrack, Clonlara, Co Clare and Roseneath, Corbally, Co Limerick

THE High Court has ordered the extradition of a man who was the “controlling mind” behind a £20 million tax scam and who is now wanted in the UK for failing to pay a confiscation order amounting to almost £13 million. 

Daniel O’Connell, 65, with an address at Ballybrack, Clonlara, Co Clare and Roseneath, Corbally, Co Limerick, had opposed his extradition on several grounds including delay.

He also argued that to imprison him would breach his fundamental rights under the European Convention of Human Rights.

It was also submitted that as O'Connell is currently “indigent”, or poor, he should not be surrendered to serve a penalty where a rich person would not have to do so.

However, this Friday morning, in a 47-page written judgement, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly rejected all of Mr O’Connell’s grounds.

She said: “This court is satisfied that there is no basis for refusing his surrender or referring his case further to the Court of Justice of the European Union.”

Ms Justice Donnelly also said the High Court can only refuse to surrender someone “where there is a real risk that his rights cannot be protected or were not protected in the issuing state because of a defect in the system of justice there such that it would be egregious to surrender him”.

Ms Justice Donnelly said: “No such evidence has been put forward.”

Mr O’Connell was convicted in Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court on August 9, 2000, for five offences of VAT evasion between August 1, 1996 and March 25, 1999.

He was subsequently jailed for eight years but released in March 2003 on licence.

In addition, in January 2003, Mr O’Connell was also made subject to a confiscation order for almost £6 million to be paid by May 2004 - for which an additional sentence of seven years’ imprisonment would be imposed in default of payment.

The court previously heard that, to date, £354,407.41 has been paid towards Mr O'Connell's confiscation order. 

It also heard that, by September 2016, this confiscation order had a balance outstanding of nearly £6 million plus accrued interest of over £5.8 million.

Mr O’Connell was subsequently arrested in 2017 on foot of a European Arrest Warrant issued by the UK authorities.

The warrant, the High Court heard, stated that because Mr O’Connell failed to pay the confiscation order in full by May 2004, his default sentence was activated and his extradition was being sought so that he could be returned to prison in order to serve this part of the overall sentence.

The warrant, issued by Westminister Magistrates Court in London in 2016, outlined Mr O’Connell's involvement with five companies all of which became “missing traders” and for all of which he was acting as the “controlling mind”. 

It stated that the five companies all failed to submit a VAT return and/or failed to account for any VAT to Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise during periods when their respective trading was substantial.

The five “missing trader” companies made sales of over £119 million on which the VAT due would have been approximately £20 million from 1997 to 1999. 

However, the companies accounted for only £17,086.00 in VAT during the relevant period. 

In her written judgement today, Ms Justice Donnelly noted that the EAW stated: “It is important to note that sentence in default is not ancillary, but integral to the overall sentence for the criminal offence.”

Ms Justice Donnelly, in her judgement, also noted that Mr O’Connell had argued that to be jailed for seven years in addition to the time he has previously served was “disproportionate to the crime” and “disproportionate in circumstances where [Mr O’Connell] was indigent and unable to pay”.

However, Ms Justice Donnelly found: “This court is quite satisfied that in the context of a multimillion point Sterling fraud of which this respondent had been convicted and in light of the value of the confiscation order itself, it is not disproportionate for such a lengthy sentence to be imposed.”

She also stated that Mr O’Connell “must have been aware that from May 2004, he was required to pay that money” and he “must have known that the default sentence was liable to be triggered”.

She said there “is simply no ground whatsoever on which he could have believed that he would no longer have to serve that sentence”.

Ms Justice Donnelly also said she rejected a claim made by Mr O’Connell that he had a ten-year-old child “in the belief that he would be with her at all times”, and that he and his partner would not have had her “if they had known that she would be left without a father in the state in her formative years”.

Ms Justice Donnelly said there was “no suggestion that the child will suffer in any particular way over and above that which can be expected of any children who would lose access to a parent due to imprisonment”.

At a previous hearing, Dr Michael Forde SC, for Mr O’Connell, submitted there was a 17-year gap between his client’s conviction and arrest and therefore the confiscation order was invalid because of undue delay. 

This breached Article 6.1 Article 8 and in particular Article 49.3 of the European Convention on Human Rights which required penalties not to be disproportionate, said Dr Forde.

Dr Forde also said it was “inexplicable” why the UK authorities with the assistance of Irish authorities could not locate his client when his licence expired in 2007 as his client had lived openly in Clare during this time and had made no attempt to hide his identity. 

Dr Forde called this “bureaucratic inertia at its worse”.

The barrister also said there was not “a snowball’s” chance on the evidence that his client could make any payment on the confiscation amount, he said.

He said: “The £13 million that he is now expected to pay and the detention for failure to pay it is grossly disproportionate.”

The High Court today heard father-of-three Mr O’Connell, who was remanded on continuing bail, will make an application to appeal the extradition order next Wednesday at 10.30am.