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Eight years in slammer for playboy DRAM VAT scamster

Arrested half-naked with mistress in Park Lane

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A playboy who swindled the VAT man out of £20 million via a computer components scam was yesterday jailed for eight years.

Daniel O'Connell was arrested half-naked in bed with his mistress in a Park Lane Hotel last year after a dawn raid by Customs and Excise officers. The 47-year-old married father of two had been living the life of Riley on the proceeds of the fraud, and was planning early retirement in the Bahamas.

The Limerick man's scheme involved the VAT-free status of goods exported between EU countries. O'Connell bought chips and other computer components in London, claiming they were headed for companies in Ireland - and would therefore not be liable for VAT when bought.

He then sold them to his own network of companies in England, pocketing the VAT. He later stashed his millions in offshore bank accounts in the Bahamas, Belize and the Turks and Caicos.

During the trial the prosecution said O'Connell's partner in crime was Michael Keating, former lord mayor of Dublin and one-time member of Garrett Fitzgerald's 1980s government.

Keating was said to be involved with companies Irish Semi-Conductors and Anglo Irish merchants, which were used to back up O'Connell's deals.

The scam stopped in December 1998 when a tax evasion scam involving computer chips made front page news in Ireland. O'Connell got the jitters started making plans to find a retirement hideaway in the Bahamas.

O'Connell was yesterday found guilty of tax evasion yesterday after a six month trial at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court, Westminster. Judge William Rose described the case as "one of the highest, if not the highest, VAT tax fraud ever prosecuted".

"The fraud in which you played a part was on a totally massive scale and it resulted in a loss to Customs and thus to the public purse of something in excess of £20 million," he said.

He told O'Connell: "I have little doubt that, had you not been apprehended, the frauds would have continued."

O'Connell got eight years in the slammer, despite protesting he was blackmailed into the swindle by Keating.

"He [Keating] told me I would be in a wheelchair. He said 'We know where you live. We know where your wife and children are,'" he said.

But O'Connell's wife and children seem to have been the last thing on his mind as he embraced a jet-set lifestyle. He showered his mistress with diamonds from royal jewellers Asprey and Garrard, and gave her a £16,000 Cartier watch, while living it up in the Bahamas and Monte Carlo.

As for Keating, he has so far got off Scott free. He cannot be charged because the extradition agreement between Ireland and the UK did not cover fiscal crimes. But the Judge warned: "If Keating ever sets foot on British soil, he would be arrested". ®

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