17 May 2012

Rangers: Luckiest Club In Britain

At this hour – around 1.30am we have not yet received the full reasoning of the Appelate Tribunal – the appeal body to whom Rangers went to try to reduce their punishment. Yet we already know enough to conclude that Rangers FC are beyond question lucky to exist at all now – certainly the luckiest club in British football right now, simply because they’re still allowed to trade as a football club.

Surprised that they upheld the fine and 1 year ban on buying new players? Hardly. And nor – critically – do I think Charles Green and the Mysterious Twenty of his consortium will be either.

They want to buy a club which nearly – seriously nearly – got expelled from Scottish football completely for a massive £12m tax fraud.

The Appeal Tribunal writes: “The sanctions available included expulsion from participation in the game and termination or suspension of membership of the Scottish FA, which would have had a similar effect. The Appellate Tribunal observes that serious consideration was given by the disciplinary tribunal to imposing one of these sanctions, which would have had obvious consequences for the survival of the club. The Disciplinary Tribunal rejected these as too severe and this Appellate Tribunal agrees with that conclusion.”

Bluntly: Green’s damned lucky that Rangers exists at all, that there is a thing called Rangers to buy. To borrow the tribunal’s favourite phrase about men-in-suits-in-Rangers – he had to have known what was going on and how near this club has come to annihilation.

So no, nobody should be surprised that against that threat, Rangers are merely banned from buying new talent for a year. A year in which they’re already banned from Europe as all prospective buyers are aware. Mr Green and The twenty mysterons of his consortium obviously knew all about this and can thus only be relieved there’s still a club to buy.

The second critical fact here is again, the appeal tribunal goes out of its way to hold the club responsible for massive tax fraud – not simply the former owner Craig Whyte. The “club” in law is its chairman and board of directors of the plc. Look carefully at their wording:

“The Disciplinary Tribunal was correct to determine that the conduct involved – especially the deliberate non-payment of very large sums, estimated in excess of £13m of tax in the form of PAYE, NIC and VAT – was attributable to the club as a member of the Scottish FA.”

Now, remember what it was that the tribunal determined? That key named directors at Rangers at that time: John McClelland, John Greig, David King, Ken Olverman and Martin Bain (he of the shredded contracts as revealed by C4 News) had to have known what was going on and did nothing about it.

This was the ‘club’ in law. The directors. These men of Rangers who walked away from Rangers.

Since what was going on was ‘deliberate non payment’ income tax, national insurance and VAT to the value of £13m it is reasonable to ask whether these men, along with Mr Whyte, are now going to face a police investigation for possible fraud. I shall be making inquiries from first thing.

Quite possibly they are innocent men, shut out from what was happening by the ever-increasingly-absent Craig Whyte. Though the tribunal has already stated they must have known something very wrong was happening at Ibrox, yet chose to do little or nothing about it.

Mr Whyte is accused by an eminent legal tribunal of directly masterminding a deliberate non-payment of tax. But the whole point here is that tribunal first and now appelate tribunal explicitly hold the ‘club’ (the directors) responsible for this joint enterprise of non-payment. They do not just blame Craig Whyte.

Craig Whyte’s reaction? No change there since he’s always regarded the entire procedure as a “kangaroo court”, “a complete joke” and “a total charade”. He will not bother to appeal, that being his view.

As for the football side of things? Well, there is a football side of things and since Ibrox has been the scene of a major tax fraud, Rangers are  exceedingly lucky that this even exists today.

The appeal tribunal duly notes there are 40 players who can still turn up next season because the buy-ban doesn’t stop the club extending contracts of these 40 already on the books:

“…the Appellate Tribunal recognises that the Disciplinary Tribunal decision does not affect Rangers’ ability to extend the contracts of existing professional players, including those whose contracts will expire at the end of this season and including also those currently on loan to other clubs. The Appellate Tribunal observes that Rangers FC have over 40 professional players in this category.”

But footy’s nothing if not short as a career. The window for glory is just a few seasons for most players. Ryan Giggs is an exception proving a brutal rule: life’s short at the top.

Realistically, the better the player, the more likely they are to look elsewhere for glory and european football, when many contracts expire next month at Rangers.

Clearly, from all this, the only reasonable response from Ibrox should be relief and gratitude that they still exist. Scores of clubs, charities, individuals, businesses, councils and colleges across Scotland, the UK and beyond are owed money by this football club – and so are all of us owed at least £13m in deliberate unpaid taxes aka fraud aka serious crime.

The only thing Scotland and the UK taxpayer need hear from Rangers PLC today is the word “sorry”. That’s about as likely as a Craig Whyte pitch-side press conference at Ibrox.

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