Irish truck driver wins legal challenge over €1.5m Greek tax demand

The Irish Examiner — An Irish truck driver has won his legal challenge against a tax penalty demand for €1.5m from Greece.

Eamonn Donnellan sued the Revenue Commissioners concerning a demand that was served on him by Revenue over 10 years after his arrest, conviction and subsequent acquittal of smuggling cigarettes in Greece.

At the High Court today, Mr Justice Tony O’Connor made a declaration that Revenue is not entitled to enforce the Greek authorities request to recover the demand of €1.5m from Mr Donnellan.

Mr Donnellan was notified by Revenue of the demand in November 2014, which arose following a demand made by the Greek tax authorities in April 2009.

The declaration came after last week’s finding by the ECJ that under EU law, bodies like Revenue are not precluded from refusing requests from other member states to seek demands from persons on the grounds the person who the demand was made against was not properly notified of the demand.

The case was referred to ECJ in 2015 by Mr Justice O’Connor, who welcomed the resolution of the proceedings. The Judge also awarded Mr Donnellan his legal costs against Revenue.

Mr Donellan of Culkeen, Cloonfad, Co Roscommon, was jailed in 2002 after a Greek court found him guilty of allegedly smuggling after a consignment of 176,000 packs of contraband cigarettes was found concealed in his truck.

Mr Donnellan, who at all times maintained his innocence, served more than four months in jail before his conviction was overturned and he was released.

He returned home and heard nothing until November 2014 when he was notified by the Irish Revenue Commissioners that he owed the Greek authorities €1.5m.

The demand was made under EU Council Directive 2010/24 and European Communities Regulations dealing with requests for mutual assistance for the recovery of certain levies, duties and taxes.

Mr Donnellan, represented by Paul McGarry SC opposed the demand, claiming it was procedurally flawed and an abuse of process.

He also was informed the demand was a penalty in respect of a criminal offence of which he was acquitted.

His lawyers claimed the Greek authorities didn’t comply with the provisions of the EU Directive before requesting the assistance of Revenue.

He claimed he was never properly notified of the demand nor was he given an opportunity to contest it was a breach of his rights.

He subsequently discovered the judgment was made against him in 2009, resulting in him bringing proceedings aimed at having the demand set aside.

Revenue, which had opposed Mr Donnellan’s application, consented to the declaration in Mr Donnellan’s favour.

Noel Travers SC for Revenue told the court it was consenting after the ECJ had brought clarity to the matter.

When the Greeks made the request, counsel said Revenue believed it had an obligation under EU law to serve the demand on Mr Donnellan.

The ECJ had found that directives concerning mutual assistance in relation to the recovery of taxes, when read in the light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, must be interpreted as not precluding a member state from refusing to enforce a request to recover a fine imposed in another member state.

This the ECJ found was because the decision imposing that fine was not properly notified to the person concerned before the request for recovery was made.