Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Bank 'didn't tell Taggart brothers of their fears'

By Alan Erwin

The former owners of one of Northern Ireland's largest property companies would have acted differently if they had been made aware of bank concerns before the firm collapsed, its former boss has told the High Court.

Michael Taggart claimed he would have fast-tracked investment offers and pulled out of purchasing a major housing scheme on the outskirts of Belfast had he been told of financial anxieties.

Mr Taggart claims negligence and improper conduct contributed to the destruction of his business empire.

Along with his brother John, he is locked in a multi-million pound legal battle with the Ulster Bank.

The Taggart Group was badly hit by the 2007 property crash and went into administration a year later.

The brothers are seeking tens of millions of pounds in damages from Ulster Bank.

In a counter-claim, the bank has lodged writs for £5m and €4.3m it alleges the brothers owe in personal guarantees over land purchases in Kinsealy, north Co Dublin, and in Northern Ireland.

Central to the Taggarts' case is an allegation the bank failed to properly warn them of concerns about the financial status of their business at the time.

Had the brothers known of any unease, they contend, assets were at their disposal which could have been sold to off-set loans.

As Mr Taggart continued his evidence on day two, he was questioned about a 2007 meeting with equity fund representatives.

"They had contacted Taggart with a view to investing in Taggart and had pursued Taggart," he said.

Ultimately the company declined their offer which, according to the businessman, was one of several from potential investors.

His barrister, Gerald Simpson QC, pressed him on whether he would have reached the same decision if put under pressure or told about the bank's concerns.

"We would have taken a completely different view and we would have fast-tracked this opportunity along with various other opportunities," Mr Taggart replied.

He added that refinancing of the Taggarts' Manchester operation and potential share sales would also have been examined, along with "numerous asset sales that are so many it would take quite a while to go through them".

Earlier in the hearing details were set out of three major joint-venture acquisitions between the Taggart Group and a stockbrokerage, all involving other banks. The hearing continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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