EXCLUSIVE: THE Ulster Bank is in the dock today to explain why it pulled the plug on a multi-million pound property empire.
Three senior officials are due to testify at the High Court in Belfast against former construction firm the Taggart Group.
At the centre of the landmark legal battle is a €19M plot at Kinsealy in Dublin.
Three weeks have been set aside to hear evidence in the case before Mr Justice Tom Burgess.
Brothers Michael and John Taggart launched the legal challenge against the Ulster Bank after it cut its credit line in 2007.
The Taggart Group went into administration the following year and 500 workers lost their jobs.
The farmer’s sons – described as ‘Ireland’s richest men’ – ran the business empire once worth €600M.
Ulster Bank claims the Taggarts owe them £5M and €4.3M in personal guarantees and wants the monies back.
The Taggarts have counter-sued, claiming the Ulster Bank brought an end to their empire without proper cause.
They also want to know the whereabouts of £18 million in payments they made to the bank.
The Ulster Bank had vigorously opposed the Taggarts bid to have three cases heard together arguing it would be detrimental to the commercial life of Northern Ireland.
But a High Court judged ruled in favour of the Taggart brothers for a single hearing.
The bank had previously won a summary judgement which would have forced the Taggarts to hand over €4.3M in personal guarantees allegedly linked to the Dublin land deal.
However, last July the judge set both judgments aside and ordered a new hearing into the cases.
In his judgement, the judge said that the Taggart brothers had been described in the Sunday Independent in 2006 as “the richest people in the country.”
He also noted that the Taggarts had contended during the hearing “that there is, as a minimum, a possible unexplained shortfall of some Stg£18M in repayments allegedly made by the Taggarts to the Plaintiffs (Ulster Bank) – some Stg£39M versus around Stg£21M.”
The Taggarts began their property empire as teenagers on building sites in London.
They later moved back to Drumsurn, Co Derry, where they oversaw property developments throughout Northern Ireland and in England.
The lengthy legal battle to date has cost £6 million in fees.
The Ulster Bank, which has bailed out to the tune of £14 billion from Royal Bank of Scotland, has spent £3 million of taxpayers’ cash fighting the legal action.
A source close to the case said last night: “Maybe the bank would be better off using taxpayers’ money to help small businesses instead of chasing debtors for money they don’t have.
“The banks are spending tax payers money chasing the brothers who have repeatedly alleged that the there is nothing to give the banks regardless of the outcome.
“This begs the questions that the banks motives can only be based on head hunting and saving face and make no commercial sense.
“Royal Bank of Scotland shareholders are said to be very unhappy with Ulster Bank continuing to be supported and having obtained £14 billion in funding despite continued losses with the completed losses still undetermined and continuing.
“The future of the Ulster Bank remains unknown because of all its toxic debts.”