Sentence reduced of Castlepollard man who received Irish citizenship after pretending to flee Balkan war

Natasha Reid

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Natasha Reid

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newsroom@longfordleader.ie

Court

An Albanian man, who fraudulently obtained Irish citizenship by pretending to be a Kosovan refugee, has had his 18-month jail term halved

An Albanian man, who fraudulently obtained Irish citizenship by pretending to be a Kosovan refugee, has had his 18-month jail term halved by the Court of Appeal in what is believed to be the first ever case of its type here.

Emri Bardhoshi’s false identity was five years younger than he was, and he came clean when he feared that this would hamper his treatment for a medical problem he developed.

The now 42-year-old had presented himself as a Kosovan fleeing war in the Balkans, when he arrived in the back of a lorry in 2001. He also gave a false name and date of birth.

Bardhoshi failed in his application for refugee status, but was granted Leave to Remain in 2007, and ultimately became a naturalised citizen under his false identity. He later obtained Irish passports for himself and three of his four children using that same identity.

By 2017, Bardhoshi was a respected take-away owner in Westmeath, involved in fundraising for charity. However, he developed liver problems and became concerned about receiving treatment when his date of birth understated his age by five years. He consulted a solicitor in order to bring his position to the attention of the authorities.

The separated father of four, of Roseville, Mullingar Road, Castlepollard, Co Westmeath came before Judge Keenan Johnson at Mullingar Circuit Criminal Court in May.

He pleaded guilty to four offences relating to applying for Irish passports for his three youngest children and himself, and with making a false declaration on 21 February 2012 in his application for citizenship.

He was sentenced to three years in prison with the final 18 months suspended, and was given until September 1 to get his affairs in order before going into custody.

The passports of his three youngest children were revoked, he lost his driving licence, his Irish citizenship is under review, and he now also faces the prospect of being deported.

Last Friday, Bardhoshi appealed against the severity of his sentence to the Court of Appeal.

His barrister, Seán Gillane SC, submitted that the judge had placed undue emphasis on the need for deterrence, had erred in imposing an excessive sentence, had failed to recognise the exceptional circumstances of the case and to consider alternatives to custody.

He pointed out that his client had worked hard here, paid his taxes, and engaged in local charitable activities.
Garret Baker BL responded on behalf of the Director of Public Proseuctions (DPP).

He said that the appellant had come to Ireland with a fictitious identity and that his existence had been rooted in a fundamental lie. He said that, by the time the offending began in 2012, he’d had over a decade to reflect on his position and take steps to rectify it.

“But what he does is double down on the original lie,” he said.

“Were there no health difficulties in 2017, there in all likelihood would have been no confession,” he suggested. “I didn’t detect a growing crisis of conscience.”

Court President Justice George Birmingham, presiding with Justice Patrick McCarthy and Justice Isobel Kennedy, delivered an extempore judgment.

He remarked that it was an unusual case and may have been the first ever such prosecution here.

He said that the court believed that a custodial sentence was required in the public interest.

“We regard obtaining Irish citizenship through fraud as very serious indeed,” he remarked.

However, the court felt that the ‘very unusual aspect’ of his self-reporting had provided scope for a greater reduction in his sentence.

The court quashed the original sentence and again imposed three years in prison, this time suspending all but nine months of that sentence.

Bardhoshi, who attended the hearing remotely, entered a bond to be of good behaviour while in custody and for three years post-release. He also undertook to present at Mullingar Garda Station on September 1, as previously agreed.