4 Feb 2013

HMRC and the ‘Big Tax Case’: no victory yet except for the lawyers

The news that the HMRC press office should email the press with information for them seems to have upset some Rangers supporters. Let me tell them that a colleague of mine recently described the HMRC press office in the following terms:

“They will tell you on the record that they cannot comment. Off the record they’ll tell you ‘no comment.’ ”

This is not an observation I have had any reason to disagree with. They are nothing if not professional in terms of what they can and cannot tell you. So some around Govan should stop throwing the proverbial toys out of the cot, calm down and stop screaming about leaks and the need to have reporters arrested.

Since there was doubt in some quarters about precisely where the world is with the Big Tax Case appeal, I left a couple of questions with the HMRC press office a few days ago. They duly answered them today with effect that their leave to appeal was lodged and duly granted.

It all now moves to the high court – almost certainly in London.

It will take a very long time indeed and will cost a very great deal of money. But HMRC is keen to fight this one right to the end, not least because the kind of tax avoidance scheme used for many years at Rangers under Sir David Murray is also used by thousands of other UK firms including large football clubs in England. Thus far, it is all perfectly legal.

The high court appeal will look solely into interpretations of facts in the law of taxation. That is, it will not look at determining facts all over again. The first tier tax tribunal (FTTT) did that and it ruled by majority verdict, for instance, that the payments that have not been repaid by former Rangers directors and players were loans and legal. It’s avoidance, not evasion, by majority verdict.

This was widely – and quite wrongly – misreported around Glasgow as a victory in the case for Rangers old company. It was not. It was a victory in that stage of the process and indeed a significant one.

However the grounds for appeal in terms of interpretation of facts in law have now been accepted. In short, to coin a phrase from the current case looking into Rangers’ declaration of payments to players: “There is a case to answer.”

Last word to Charles Green who rightly observed after the FTTT decision that nobody has won. He was right then and right now. At this stage the only certain victory is the remuneration of more battalions of lawyers.

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