Sunday 18 February 2018

Businessman will sue bank 'if they don't stop following him'

Private detectives hired by Ulster Bank are tailing developer as legal battle over €100m rumbles on

Michael Taggart
Michael Taggart

Greg Harkin

Lawyers for a businessman being followed by private detectives hired by a bank have told a judge they will sue for damages unless the surveillance ceases.

Ulster Bank has admitted for a second time that private eyes are following Michael Taggart, once one of Ireland's richest men.

He is suing the bank for €100m in a case in which he and his brother John allege Ulster Bank acted wrongly when it put their business empire into receivership.

The bank is taking its own legal action against the brothers, alleging it is owed more than €4m in personal guarantees related to the €19m purchase of land in Kinsealy in north County Dublin.

Ulster Bank says it is also owed £5m (€6.25m) for a personal guarantee over property in the North. The brothers are denying both claims.

At a court in Belfast last week Mr Justice Weatherup heard a number of applications from both sides in relation to the case.

Mr Taggart, from Drumsurn in north County Derry, had complained to the bank earlier this month after being followed by private investigators.

Photographs had also been taken of the family home whilst three young children were playing outside, he alleged in a solicitor's letter.

Gerry Simpson, counsel for Michael Taggart, told the Commercial Court in Belfast last Thursday, that his client wanted Ulster Bank to stop its surveillance.

"He is being followed and harassed and unless it (the surveillance) ceases he may begin a separate legal action against the bank," said Mr Simpson.

Among the Ulster Bank legal team in court was Carly Chapman, from Arthur Cox solicitors, who had confirmed two weeks ago that the Taggarts were being followed.

Counsel for the bank, Stephen Shaw, told the judge: "Mr Taggart was the subject of surveillance which was lawfully undertaken."

Mr Shaw alleged that a Sunday Independent article had "made the case that we (Ulster Bank) were involved in unlawful activity".

He said the bank would deal with the case within the courts saying they would not be getting involved in "warfare elsewhere".

The judge made no comment on the matter. During legal argument to reach agreement on the conduct of a full hearing, Mr Justice Weatherup gave Ulster Bank 14 days to respond to two matters raised by the Taggarts.

Mr Simpson also made an application to the court for details of bonuses, if any, paid to three senior Ulster Bank officials to be given to the Taggarts.

The officials included former Ulster Bank chief Henry Elvin and Richard Ennis, who was head of credit in the bank. Both were part of the Taggart relationship team.

Mr Simpson also alleged that early 2007 documents, obtained through discovery, had shown concerns inside the credit department of Ulster Bank about the financial position of the various property development companies run by the brothers in Ireland.

However, his clients insist that these concerns were never raised with them.

In fact, alleged Mr Simpson, Ulster Bank officials continued to offer further loans and credit to the Taggarts.

He said that had the Taggarts known of the bank's concerns, they had more than enough assets at their disposal at the time which would have off-set loans and those concerns including a large property empire in Manchester.

"Credit was getting concerned but this was not being relayed to the Taggarts," he said. Mr Simpson also accused Ulster Bank of delaying the delivery of internal reports to his team.

He said new files marked 'excess reports' were provided just before they were included in new bundles of files handed over to him.

"There is a concern that there is a situation of rolling discovery on the part of the bank," alleged Mr Simpson.

However, Mr Shaw argued that the bank took the position that they had given everything required to date, pointing out that Michael Taggart had stated in affidavit last year that he was ready to go to trial.

Further applications for discovery were being resisted as a result as they would only put Ulster Bank to further expense.

Mr Justice Weatherup said he would rule on the discovery of the bankers' bonuses tomorrow at the same court.

Sunday Independent

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