Sheep smugglers put Celtic Tiger in jeopardy for £639 VAT scam

Friday, March 02, 2001
A vat scam worth £639 has made the Celtic Tiger vulnerable to a foot and mouth crisis.

Senior Department of Agriculture sources said last night they believe the 248 sheep smuggled from an infected herd in the North to Roscommon were transported as part of an elaborate plot between two farmers.

Irish farmers, because they are not registered officially for VAT, are entitled to make an annual rebate claim from the Exchequer of 4.3% off their total purchases.

Officials believe the sheep from the North, slaughtered last week in the Kepak plant in Athleague, Co Roscommon, were passed off as belonging to a local farmer so that this VAT loophole could be used.

It is believed that the plant paid out £14,880 for the 248 sheep, entitling the supplier posing as a local farmer, to an extra £639 tax rebate.

The RUC yesterday arrested and released one man in connection with the scam in Bambridge, Co Down. Gardaí are seeking another man south of the border.

Officials in the Department have had one phone conversation with this man, however they do not know where he is.

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association called on the Government last night to bring the full force of the Criminal Assets Bureau to bear on rogue livestock traders.

Pat O’Rourke, president, said their profits and lorries should be confiscated.

The Gardaí and the Department of Agriculture are trying to determine the exact route taken by the truck delivering the sheep from Armagh to Roscommon.

There are real fears that areas along the 95 mile route may have been affected.

It is believed the 248 sheep would have taken the driver across the border somewhere close to Cullaville, before entering Co Monaghan.

This route would have progressed onto Carrickmacross along the R179 and then on towards Baillieborough. The lorry could have then joined the R165 to meet up with the N3, just east of Cavan town, from where the N55 would have brought the driver South through Granard to the N4 in Edgeworthstown.

The main N4 road would have then brought the lorry to Longford town to meet the N63 and take the truck down through Lanesborough, Roscommon town and finally into Athleague.

The knock on effects of this VAT scam are huge. The Agriculture Minister, Joe Walsh, pleaded with the public to be responsible and heed all the precautionary measures that are now in place.

"It is potentially the single most devastating matter to face the country and the economy since Independence," he said.

A range of sporting, cultural and business events have been cancelled here and in Britain where there are 32 confirmed cases.

Minister Walsh asked church leaders to co operate in efforts to ward off what he warned is the single most devastating threat the country has faced since the foundation of the State.

However, the Minister stressed that there were no signs or symptoms of the disease on any animal in the Republic so far, as confirmation came through that that tests on the animals slaughtered as a precaution in Co Wexford were negative.

The Chief Veterinary Officer said the Athleague plant has gone through a process of disinfection, and 12 farms run by plant employees, who may have had contact with the suspect sheep, are being monitored.

The Department believes the sheep would only have been in the country a couple of hours before slaughter.

The Department has been inundated with reports of suspected cases. However, all reports have been false alarms so far.

Meanwhile, more army personnel will be dispatched to the Border as the Government steps up efforts to stop the virus reaching the Republic.

The Taoiseach reviewed measures to stop the disease spreading at a two hour emergency Cabinet meeting last night.

The Taoiseach also confirmed that the Civil Defence and other groups will be deployed in an all out effort to seal off the 141 border crossings.

The Taoiseach stressed that the Republic was still free of the dreaded disease.

"In no sense have we lost any battle," he said, appealing to the public for support.

"This is a case where everyone working together, to make sure we enforce the regulations introduced by the Department of Agriculture, and people co operate we can succeed."

Earlier he warned that: "this is not a two day wonder, this is going to take us some weeks and we are going to have to keep at it."

Late yesterday France imposed a temporary ban, operational from today, on all live imports of animals from Ireland.