HM Revenue and Customs bosses investigating suspected tax evasion were "gleeful" ahead of raids on the homes of four former partners at Belfast accountancy firm KPMG, the High Court was told yesterday.
Counsel for the executives claimed there was no justification for taking the "nuclear option" of an intrusive operation that also involved trawling through children's school bags.
The details emerged during a challenge to the legality of the process to obtain warrants to search the accountants' homes and offices.
Eamonn Donaghy, Jon D'Arcy, Paul Hollway and Arthur O'Brien claim HMRC misled judges into authorising the raids as part of a criminal probe.
All four men were arrested last November, but have not been charged. At the time KPMG said it was cooperating with the inquiry and had placed them on administrative leave.
In February this year the company announced the partners in its Belfast office subject to the HMRC probe had retired.
KPMG stressed the investigation related solely to the executives' personal affairs and was unrelated to the company's business or its clients.
It emerged in court yesterday that Revenue concerns involved the formation of a separate business partnership and when it was registered. Loans being issued and written off as bad debt also featured in inquiries.
Mr Donaghy, Mr D'Arcy, Mr Hollway and Mr O'Brien are seeking to judicially review the steps taken to search their homes and business premises. Opening their case, barrister Barry Macdonald QC acknowledged the decisions to launch an investigation or arrest his clients was not being challenged - although neither action was accepted as reasonable or justified.
A panel of three judges was told the tax authority should have considered less intrusive steps in an attempt to quell any suspicions. The case continues.