24 Feb 2014

Rangers court battle: what next for Ibrox?

And so the lawyers have gathered in Edinburgh and the so-called Rangers big tax case begins another round.

Like everything to do with Glasgow football the mere mention of this excites a certain degree of comment shall we say?


So in the spirit of setting out for us all what is actually going on, here goes. This is largely from HMRC and the Courts and Tribunals Service.

The current appeal was lodged by HMRC against the previous majority tribunal verdict.

It runs from 24 February until 21 March in Edinburgh, or at least that is the time set aside. It is an appeal on points of law so at present it appears no witnesses will be called.

Should either party wish to appeal after this to the high court on points of law and only on points of law, that may be granted to the high court.

So whatever happens this is not necessarily the end of it should either party wish to appeal.

Read more: Red, Whyte and blue: the Rangers saga continues

In brief HMRC say the Employment Benefit Trusts (EBTs) used by Rangers under former owner Sir David Murray were a way of avoiding income tax.

Sir David Murray contends they were lawful and he won by majority which is now under appeal on points of law.

The case matters greatly to HMRC because of the precedent at stake.

HMRC contends that EBTs were used by more than 5000 companies across these islands including not a few large football clubs in England.

So for HMRC there is a great deal more to it than Rangers. RFC simply happens to be the test case. Football and football fans would do well to see this reality for what it is.

So the implications for that across companies in UK PLC are obvious and wide. It. Is. Not. About. Rangers. Or at least insofar as trying to reframe UK tax law is concerned.

Read more: Rangers FC: the taxman ain’t walking away

However in footballing terms it very much is of course, about Rangers. At stake the very governance of the game in Scotland.

The eventual issue of whether or not what used to be one of the biggest clubs in football cheated its way to silverware year after year, remains an open question.

This is a major problem stretching far beyond the gates of Ibrox. The implications for the Scottish Football Association (SFA) should not be lost on anyone.

Equally – Sir David Murray and Paul Baxendale-Walker (the stuck-off solicitor and pornographer who brought the EBT concept to the club) could very well turn out to be the greatest financial wizards of modern Scottish football. Right now, in law, they most certainly are. We know why they did it because they said so.

Read more: Craig Whyte’s lawyers send Letter Before Action

Here’s Andrew Thornhill, the lawyer representing the Murray Group, on the final day of the previous tribunal hearing: “Because the whole point of the remuneration trust was it enabled the club to take on players that it otherwise couldn’t afforded (sic) to pay if it had to pay the grossed up wage.

“This was Sir David Murray’s way of putting it. It was a way of getting hold of players you otherwise couldn’t afford.

“So the last thing the club would do is say to a player: now, if you don’t like having remuneration trust we will pay you gross instead. It just couldn’t afford to do it. It wasn’t an option.”

They recruited players they otherwise couldn’t afford.

Yet, in a ruling which raised many an eyebrow, an Independent Commission in Glasgow said that buying players you cannot otherwise afford who then go on to win you silverware year after year, is not buying sporting advantage.

Read more: You couldn’t make it up: Rangers ban the BBC

But what if buying those players was unlawful? Is tax law one thing and football law something other? If HMRC win, this is where the questions will pile up.

And what of dear old Campbell Ogilvie, the key Rangers finance official whilst all this was happening and recipient of an EBT himself. He remains SFA President even though that organisation describes him as “heavily conflicted”.

Yet still no hint of standing aside or gardening leave until this matter is settled. It’s not the way things happen round Hampden way. And again – what if it does turn out to have been unlawful?

So that is why it all matters. That is why it is not over. That is why there has never been a final verdict.

And that is why Rangers – rightly – made that clear to their fans when the previous tribunal reported.

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