19 Jul 2013

Rangers FC: the taxman ain’t walking away

Well, maybe Shakespeare was a bear as well as a bard. Maybe he too was watching the Rangers Big Tax Case in some time-warp when he talked about human existence dragging on in “its petty pace” and being “full of sound and fury” yet “signifying nothing”.

There has certainly been a lot of sound and fury. The pace has been nothing if not petty. The significance of it all is still far from clear.

Today, 19 July, is the date set in Edinburgh for the next round of what looks like an increasingly attritional contest.

The second tier tax tribunal opens. It’s perhaps a rather recondite avenue of the civil law, but behind all this there is a war going on between two worlds, a war which creeps further up the political agenda with every week that passes, every cut that is imposed by the coalition.

This does not, should not, impinge upon the process of the law one iota, but it does make it easier for HMRC to press their case in the background of this war of the worlds.

Simply put, the concept of tax avoidance, the world of the Baxendale-Walkers and all the Rangers suits who took their “loans”, paid no tax, walked away and ensured HMRC would be all over Ibrox like ivy, all of that remains locked in trench warfare with Westminster, HMRC, the public accounts committee and increasingly public opinion, the world which says we are just not having this any longer in the age of austerity.

In short, the tax-avoiding suits walked away from Rangers, the taxman ain’t walking away from them.

This, my friends, is what it’s all about. Any accountant worth their invoice will tell you not to go within a thousand miles of any tax-avoiding trust or benefit schemes, not because they are illegal (though many now are and the Rangers one could yet end up being deemed so) but because if you do, you will never hear the end of the love and attention HMRC are going to give you.

That’s what made Rangers unreliable after years of the Ibrox suits getting second homes in France and all the rest of it from the legal tax-avoidance programme.

And that is why HMRC will not let go, why they have appealed to the second tier tax tribunal and why the whole culture and moral mood of the country makes it more and more conducive for them to do so.

The nuts and bolts are that the trio of judge and sometimes lay figures hears second tier tribunal cases and then, yes, there can be further appeal to the court of appeal after this. The appeal comes on a point of law, that is, the interpretation of a statute principle.

“Nobody has won,” said the erstwhile Rangers owner Sir David Murray, after the first tier tribunal. Never a truer word, Sir D, and it remains so and will do so until such time as this process of attrition is exhausted.

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