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SPL commission fines Rangers £250k but rules against stripping of titles

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The SPL appointed commission which was tasked to investigate Rangers’ use of EBTs, dual contracts and side letters have announced that Rangers have been fined £250,000 after the club failed to disclose said payments to the football authorities. However, Rangers will not be stripped of any of their 54 titles.

The Lord Nimmo Smith investigation relates to the period in Rangers history between 2000 to 2011 when Rangers ran employee benefits trusts or EBTs, which were part of a long-running tax battle with HMRC.

In a statement released by the SPL, the commission said: “Between the years 2000 and 2011 The Rangers Football Club Plc (now known as RFC 2012 Plc (in liquidation) and referred to in the decision as “Oldco”), the owner and operator of Rangers Football Club (“Rangers FC”), entered into side-letter arrangements with a large number of its professional players under which Oldco undertook to make very substantial payments to an offshore employee benefit remuneration trust, with the intent that such payments should be used to fund payments to be made to such players in the form of loans.”

The oldco were issued with a £250,000 fine for failing to disclose such payments under the rules of the SPL and the SFA, with the club’s senior management electing not to take professional advice on the matter.

The statement continued: “Those side-letter arrangements were required to be disclosed under the Rules of the Scottish Premier League (“SPL”) and the Scottish Football Association (“SFA”) as forming part of the players’ financial entitlement and as agreements providing for payments to be received by the players.

“Oldco through its senior management decided that such side-letter arrangements should not be disclosed to the football authorities, and the Board of Directors sanctioned the making of payments under the side-letter arrangements without taking any legal or accountancy advice to justify the non-disclosure.”

On the issue of payments being legal or not, the SPL commission ruled that said payments ‘were not themselves irregular and were not in breach of SPL or SFA rules’. But added at the scale and extent of the contraventions of the disclosure rules’ meant the club were handed a ‘substantial penalty’.

It continued: “The relevant SPL Rules were designed to promote sporting integrity, by mitigating the risk of irregular payments to players. Although the payments in this case were not themselves irregular and were not in breach of SPL or SFA Rules, the scale and extent of the proven contraventions of the disclosure rules require a substantial penalty to be imposed.”

Lord Nimmo Smith and his two legal colleagues ruled that Rangers, despite failing to disclose said payments to the SPL and SFA, did not secure an ‘unfair competitive advantage’ in the league and therefore no sporting sanction would be imposed on the Ibrox side – therefore securing the club’s five titles which were won during the period that EBTs were used.

It said: “Rangers FC did not gain any unfair competitive advantage from the contraventions of the SPL Rules in failing to make proper disclosure of the side-letter arrangements, nor did the non-disclosure have the effect that any of the registered players were ineligible to play, and for this and other reasons no sporting sanction or penalty should be imposed upon Rangers FC.”

The commission also stated in the summary of their decision that there are no allegations that the current owners and operators of the club aka the newco, ‘broke any SPL rules and could not be held responsible or any breach by the Oldco’. Therefore Oldco will be subject to the £250,000 fine, while Newco Rangers ran by Charles Green will have no punishment or sanctions imposed.

After the decision, the Scottish Premier League board issued a statement via the official website. It read: “The SPL Board appointed the Independent Commission to consider all aspects of the above matter and at no point provided any direction to the Commission on any aspect of the case.

“The SPL Board notes that the Commission has upheld a number of complaints against Rangers OldCo and that Rangers OldCo has been found to have breached SPL and Scottish FA Rules over an 11-year period in relation to the non-disclosure of financial arrangements involving many of its Players.

“The SPL Board are assured by the integrity of the process followed and thank The Rt Hon Lord Nimmo Smith and his colleagues, Nicholas Stewart QC and Charles Flint QC, for their time and effort. The Board wishes to give the detail of the decision further consideration at its next meeting.”

Rangers chief executive Charles Green called on everyone to move on now as the Ibrox side faces new challenges, but stated that his decision to reject a deal to surrender titles in the summer, was vindicated.

The Yorkshireman, speaking to the official Rangers website, said: “On behalf of the board of directors at Rangers, I note the findings of the Commission. It is abundantly clear from the ruling there was no attempt by Rangers Football Club to secure any unfair advantage or to cheat, as so many people asserted without giving any regard to the actual evidence.

“I would re-iterate that at no stage have I, nor anyone now involved in the running of this club, questioned the integrity of the Commission members. What I did question was the creation of a process which some people had predetermined. Every Rangers fan will be delighted that the Commission refused to get carried away on this agenda.

“It is a matter of fact that people within the SPL wanted me, at first, to surrender titles as part of a deal to enable Rangers to play again as a member of the SFA. I rejected and resisted that suggestion and today’s decision vindicates the position of the Board and the supporters. In particular, I would like to thank the Rangers Fans Fighting Fund for their dedication and commitment on this matter.

“It is fair to say that there was, at one stage, a very unhealthy desire to press on with an investigation into this matter when cool heads and clear thinking was required. Instead, there was a frenzied atmosphere around Rangers caused by the Club’s insolvency situation.”

Green hit out at the SPL’s waste of funds and time over the issue and felt that it should have been dealt in-house.

He added: “This issue could have and should have been dealt with by the board of the SPL rather than embarking on an unnecessarily grand and expensive process. At the end of the day I am left with the impression that this has been much ado about very little and a great waste of energy, time and money.

“I think I speak for all Rangers fans in saying now, enough is enough. I have said before and will say again it is time everyone moved on. There are considerable challenges ahead for this club and Scottish football as a whole.

“That is where all efforts and energy should now be focused. We, as a club, will work with all parties who have the good of the game at heart. We are looking forward and I urge all Rangers fans to do likewise. We are rebuilding this Club and are making great strides. The dark days are over and it is time now for all to embrace our ambition for a brighter future.”

We want to hear your thoughts on the SPL commissions decision? Has justice prevailed or is it a miscarriage? Are the positions of Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan not under threat? Does the punishment fit the breach of rules? We want to know what you think.

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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