Northern Ireland

KPMG tax evasion probe 'was publicity stunt'

KPMG sign Image copyright PA
Image caption The four men were former partners at Belfast accountancy firm KPMG

An investigation into suspected tax evasion targeted four former partners at Belfast accountancy firm KPMG in a publicity stunt, a court has been told.

HM Revenue and Customs misled judges into granting warrants to search the men's homes and offices it was alleged.

The claims were made as Eamonn Donaghy, Jon D'Arcy, Paul Hollway and Arthur O'Brien won permission to challenge the legality of the permits.

They were arrested in November but have not been charged with any wrongdoing.

At the time, KPMG said it was co-operating with the investigation and had placed the men on "administrative leave".

In February this year, the company announced that the partners subject to the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) probe had retired.

KPMG said 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 seeking to judicially review the lawfulness of the warrants issued to search their homes and business premises.

Their lawyers argued that significant information about their co-operation was omitted in applications for permission to trawl through the houses and offices.

"HMRC obtained these warrants in circumstances where they misrepresented the relevant facts," one of their barristers said.

"They effectively concealed the existence of relevant correspondence and misled the judges into believing that (the four men) had failed to provide all the relevant information."

HMRC had previously written to thank the executives for their comprehensive answers to enquiries, the court heard.

They knew nothing more until searches at their homes and business offices more than a year later, according to their case.

The barrister added: "These applications for search warrants, both of the houses and of the office, was actuated by an improper, collateral purpose.

"This was essentially a publicity stunt rather than a valid, genuine application for warrants to obtain documentation."

He said there had been a major impact on the professional lives of his clients.

A panel of three senior judges at the High Court granted leave to seek a judicial review after identifying reasons to extend time and a public interest in the case.

A full hearing will now take place in October.

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