An accountant took on more work than he could manage and used his former employer's Audit Registration Number illegally to hide the fact he was filing tax returns late, a court has heard.
Longford man Robert Browne (53) had taken several clients with him after leaving his former employer to go out on his own as a chartered accountant but took on too much work.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that when tax returns are filed late, it is a requirement that the accounts are audited and an Audit Registration Number (ARN) supplied by a qualified person.
Browne was not qualified to carry out an audit but was aware of his former employer's ARN and illegally used this number to hide the fact he was filing late tax returns for five clients.
Browne of Treanlawn, Killoe, Longford, pleaded guilty to making returns that were false in a material particular, contrary to section 876 of the Companies Act 2014, on dates between July 2016 and August 2019. He has no previous convictions.
The court heard there was financial fallout for his client’s companies in relation to strikeouts and credit drops due to the late filings, which they had been unaware of. The companies affected by the offending had to have their accounts for the period involved reaudited.
Lawyers for Browne say he has paid three of his clients their “out-of-pocket expenses".
Judge Pauline Codd said it was clear the offending had not been for personal gain but nonetheless involved a high degree of breach of trust, not alone of his clients but also of his former employer. She said his remorse appears genuine, and he has lost his livelihood as a result.
Judge Codd also noted his fall from grace in a small rural community.
Judge Codd imposed a two-year sentence which she suspended in full on condition that he pay recompense within six months to the two remaining clients.
Detective Garda Keith Gorman, who is on secondment to the Corporate Enforcement Authority, told Tessa White BL, prosecuting, that the matters came to light when his former employer noticed that their ARN had been used in relation to accounts they knew nothing about.
Det Gda Gorman said Browne had been an employee at the firm, and when he left in 2017, he had brought several clients with him. He said Browne had supplied his own email address on the late filings in which he had used his former employer’s ARN.
Browne admitted to gardaí that he had used the ARN without permission and outlined how he had attempted to recompense some of his former clients in relation to the reauditing they now required.
The court heard a victim impact statement from one couple who had been clients of Browne’s. They described how their family life had been impacted by Browne’s irresponsible actions as they trawled through records in an effort to pick up the pieces after the deception was uncovered.
They said the incident had eroded their trust in professionals as they had been misled for years, and they fear the full extent of the damage to their business will only be revealed in time.
Det Gda Gorman agreed with Justin McQuade BL, defending, that Browne had been immediately cooperative and remorseful. He agreed he admitted his wrongdoing, telling gardai he had been under pressure, got into difficulties and carried out the deceptive actions.
Counsel said Browne had taken on too much work, “got himself into a mess,” and rather than come clean, he had carried out these actions, buried his head in the sand and hoped to get away with it.
He said Browne was a certified accountant but was currently under suspension pending the outcome of these proceedings and was due for strike-off in the new year.
He said this offending behaviour had been reported widely in the small rural community where he lived, leading to a significant fall from grace for someone who had been in good standing.
Browne took the stand and agreed with his counsel that he wished to publicly apologise for his actions. He said he had taken on too much and got behind in his work.
He said he had taken “a shortcut” to save face for himself and was very remorseful. “I knew I did wrong,” he told the court, “I was under pressure to get things done and try to hide the lateness in filing returns.”
He told Mr McQuade he did not benefit financially, had reimbursed three of his clients and made an offer to the remaining clients. “My business is finished,” he told the court.
He agreed with Mr McQuade that he was guilty of a great breach of trust. “I have broken the trust of a small community, that looked at people like me in high regard,” he said.
Mr McQuade asked the court to take into account that this was not a case of greed and there had been no gain to Browne, that he made full admissions and suffered a large dollop of public opprobrium.