Belfast Telegraph

Warrants to search homes of four ex-KPMG partners 'unlawfully obtained'

By Alan Erwin

Warrants to search the homes and offices of four former partners at Belfast accountancy firm KPMG were unlawfully and unreasonably obtained, the High Court heard.

Counsel for the executives claimed HM Revenue and Customs misled judges into authorising the trawls as part of an investigation into suspected tax evasion at a hearing on Monday.

It was also contended that the move breached the men's rights to privacy.

Details were set out as they sought disclosure of more documents as part of their legal challenge to the process.

Eamonn Donaghy, Jon D'Arcy, Paul Hollway and Arthur O'Brien are seeking to judicially review the legality of the warrants secured by HMRC.

All four men were arrested last November, but have not been charged with any wrongdoing.

At the time KPMG said it was cooperating with the investigation and had placed them on "administrative leave".

In February this year the company announced that the partners in its Belfast office subject to the HMRC probe had retired.

KPMG stressed the inquiry related solely to the executives' personal affairs and was unrelated to the company's business or its clients.

Mr Donaghy, Mr D'Arcy, Mr Hollway and Mr O'Brien are now locked in a legal action over the steps taken to search their homes and business premises.

Their lawyers argue that significant information about their co-operation was omitted in applications for permission to carry out the trawls.

Counsel for the executives previously claimed that HMRC had misrepresented facts, concealed correspondence and was involved in a publicity stunt.

With a full hearing due to take place next month, lawyers returned to court today to seek further disclosure of a range of documents, including operational briefings given to officers involved in the searches.

Paul McLaughlin, representing the tax authority confirmed it was prepared to provide some of the material, but questioned the need to hand over other paperwork.

During proceedings it was confirmed to the three-judge panel hearing the case that the four former partners claim the process was unreasonable.

Their barrister, Barry Macdonald QC said a further ground of challenge involves claims that judicial figures were misled into granting the warrants.

Referring to other allegations, he added: "The decision to seek the warrants and the manner in which they were executed constituted an interference with their Article 8 rights (to privacy and family life)."

Mr Macdonald also said the Revenue is accused of acting in "bad faith, with improper motives".

Following discussions Lord Justice Gillen, sitting with Lord Justice Weir and Mr Justice Treacy, adjourned the application to next week.

He told Mr McLaughlin: "We should see copies of all the documents which the applicants are seeking but which you are refusing to reveal.

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