A widowed and retired shop assistant has been saddled with an excise duty bill of €74,727 relating to unmarked diesel that was part of an alleged smuggling operation.

In June 2016, custom officers and gardaí, including members of the armed response unit, as part of Revenue’s Operation Chess swooped on a border county farm in 10 to 12 vehicles where they detected 52,000 litres of hydrocarbon fuel in the form of DERV (road diesel) as part of the alleged smuggling operation.

The retired shop assistant was also the registered owner of the farm after inheriting the lands from her late husband.

The Revenue commissioners established Operation Chess to combat smugglers bringing in consignments of diesel from Poland and other countries.

Arising from the raid, Revenue commissioners initially issued the woman with an excise duty tax bill of €298,908 relating to unmarked diesel.

The woman appealed the assessment to the Tax Appeals Commission (TAC) and, on appeal, Commissioner Conor O’Higgins has reduced the bill by €224,181 to €74,727.

This follows Mr O’Higgins finding that there was no admissible evidence to support Revenue’s contention that 18 deliveries on five separate lorries to the farm in March and April 2016 could be subject to excise duties of €224,181 for the smuggled diesel.

However, Mr O’Higgins found that the woman is liable to pay excise duty of €74,727 chargeable on six deliveries totalling 156,000 litres of diesel, which were made in April and June 2016.

In evidence, the woman argued that she should not be liable for any excise duty bill, as she never had any involvement in the running of the farm, had not set foot in the larger part of the farm in over 20 years and had no knowledge of what took place there.

The woman told the TAC hearing that she said that far from being a farmer, she had worked as a shop assistant until 2014, at which point she retired from work altogether.

Name only

The woman asserted that her ownership of the lands, including the farmland, was in “name only” and the true owner, she said, was her son.

The woman’s solicitor said that his client, along with her brother, held the farm property ‘in trust’ for her son who is the beneficial owner.

When it was put to her by counsel for the Revenue Commissioners that the herd number relevant to the farm was in her name as well and that she was in receipt of farm subsidies paid to her by the State, she accepted these facts.

She repeated, however, that she was not a farmer, stating that “I don’t deal with any of that. That’s not my department.”

In his findings, Mr O’Higgins found that the woman is the owner of the farm and that her son, at least for her lifetime, has no legal entitlement to possess it.

Mr O’Higgins also said that it was striking that no witnesses were called to corroborate the woman's account of her complete lack of control over the farm property and what occurred there.

Mr O’Higgins concluded that the woman was not prepared to permit her account of non-control over the farm property of which she is owner to be subjected to proper scrutiny in the appeals process.

Mr O’Higgins considered that her credibility as a witness in her own cause to be in doubt.

As a consequence of this, Mr O’Higgins found that the available evidence suggests that she, as one of the two owners of the farm property, and the person who derived income from the farming which took place there, must be the person to whom the deliveries of hydrocarbon oil were made.