Judgment for €5.2m against two well-known businessmen
A High Court judge has granted summary judgment to the Revenue Commissioners against a father and son for sums totalling about €5.2m over disputed Revenue estimates of alleged unpaid taxes.
Mr Justice Max Barrett said the case against Annino Forte and his son Corrado, two well known Wexford town businessmen, appeared to involve 'some element of tax evasion' which must be 'deprecated' by the court.
Taxation is the 'lifeblood of active government' and our system of government, 'though it may be ever-capable of improvement', is 'an undoubted force for general good', he said.
However, he still had 'some unease' in granting a full and final judgment for 'likely ruinous' sums in circumstances where the Fortes had not appealed to the independent Appeals Commissioners against the assessment notices raised by Revenue against them, the judge said.
The Fortes had said they did not appeal because they mistakenly assumed, when it came to being sued by Revenue over the alleged liabilities, they could dispute those liabilities in court, he noted. The Revenue argued there was no affidavit evidence that would form a basis for any finding of mistake on their part.
The effect of failure to appeal the assessments means the assessments, under the relevant provisions of the Tax Acts, become 'final and conclusive', he said. This had the effect that assessments which began as estimated sums, the correctness of which have never been tested and which continue to be 'vigorously challenged' by the Fortes, who represented themselves in court, have become owing as a matter of law, he said.
Because of the failure to appeal to the Appeals Commissioners and the relevant provisions of the Tax Acts, the Fortes had no arguable defence to the Revenue's summary judgment application the judge found.
That meant the court must enter final judgment and the Revenue was entitled to summary judgment orders for €2.7m against Annino Forte, and for €2.5m against Corrado Forte, he ruled.
The judge previously asked the Revenue, because the case involved two unrepresented men possibly facing 'financial ruin if judgment was granted and the apparent 'genuine confusion' concerning whether they had a legal remedy if they did not appeal the assessments, would consider a further special audit in this matter.
The Revenue had responded, as it was entitled to do, by again requesting the court to enter judgment, he said.
In seeking judgment, the Revenue relied on two cases, the 1990 Supreme Court 'Deighan' decision and the 2017 High Court 'Du Murrio' decision, he said. The judge previously noted the Fortes had failed over some time to 'engage sensibly' with Revenue and had approached their dealings with Revenue 'in a manner that has been less than disappasionate, at times imprudent, and not always polite'.