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Landowner accuses RBS of trying to bankrupt him

A landowner has accused Royal Bank of Scotland of trying to bankrupt him in order to grab a valuable Aberdeen property site to hand to its West Register subsidiary.

RBS is seeking a summary decree in the Court of Session today against David Booth, 41, to recover a £1.35 million loan the bank made him in 2007 to buy the site at Peterculter.

Mr Booth recently had the site valued at £1.5m and believes it could have an ultimate development value of £12m. RBS, however, has obtained a valuation of £750,000. RBS says the loan period has expired, but Mr Booth says he has been prevented from repaying as his affairs have since 2009 been controlled by the bank's Global Restructuring Group (GRG), which has refused to let him put the site on the market and has withheld all his bank statements.

Mr Booth said: "For the last four years RBS have refused to give me bank statements, by doing that ... I can't go to another lender - or even complete a tax return."

The recent report for the government by businessman Lawrence Tomlinson accused the bank's GRG of systematically under-valuing properties in order to engineer defaults, and using insolvencies as a means of acquiring assets which West Register could later sell on at a profit, as part of the taxpayer-owned bank's recovery.

Mr Tomlinson spoke to 400 businesses, and was contacted by a further 250 after the report was published three weeks ago.

He said they reported a "culture of fear" once GRG took control and then an "unfair and opaque" insolvency process with potential conflicts of interest. A bank source said last night that claims of the bank deliberately sinking businesses to acquire assets were "anonymous allegations which are being investigated by Clifford Chance" (RBS's lawyers).

Mr Booth said he had enjoyed a "fantastic relationship" prior to 2008 with RBS, which had encouraged him to buy the Aberdeen site with a view to demolishing an existing property and developing affordable homes.

RBS claims the loan was agreed for 12 months only. Mr Booth, however, says it was agreed on the basis of a five-year development, with interest rolled up and paid at the end, at 1% above base rate.

As soon as GRG was created in 2009, it obtained a new valuation of the site from its regularly-used surveyors Graham & Sibbald, Mr Booth said. "They then said you are in default, your assets are less than what you have borrowed. But the fact is the site has been valued this week at between £1.5m and £1.8m."

RBS began to seek his sequestration in 2011, Mr Booth said, but there followed negotiations between RBS and law firm MBM Commercial. According to Mr Booth, he was eventually told that "GRG had decided there would be no settlement".

When Mr Booth finally got access recently to four years of bank statements he discovered interest on the loan had not been rolled up but added to his overdraft at the default rate of 29.5%, hiking the overdraft from £20,000 to £260,000. He says: "In the loan documents it states that 3% is the highest rate they can charge."

Mr Booth says the bank's actions forced him to cease trading all his business operations. The bank claims a debt of almost £1.7m, and stresses that the customer has promised a counter-claim but failed to raise one.

Mr Booth said: "They are asking for a summary decree so they can knock me out and get their hands on that land. If West Register sit on it they can put it through the development process and could realistically realise about £12m."

An RBS spokesman said: "We are going to court to get the back the money we are owed, we are not going to acquire a property.."

RBS has told the court that Mr Booth has "repeatedly failed to plead a relevant case despite the many opportunities afforded him to do so". It says the summary decree procedure exists "as a remedy to deal with precisely the type of abuse which one sees in the defence of this action" and that its claim for payment is "unanswerable".

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