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Is Walter Smith only a tool to win over Rangers fans?

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When in doubt roll Walter Smith out. That seems to be the general usage for the former Rangers legend – a tool to woo and to appease the Rangers fans, so that they can back the current regime long enough to buy season tickets.

Dubbed ‘the only man who Rangers fans can trust’, Smith has been rolled out on more than one occasion to back the then-Rangers board and owner while the fans protest or lay siege to Ibrox demanding change.

In 2007, Sir David Murray brought Walter Smith back to Ibrox in part to quell the growing discontent at the club following the failed Paul Le Guen experiment. Smith was also a close ally of Sir David Murray and despite the huge mess that the former Rangers owner left behind as he took Craig Whyte’s shiny pound coin to the bank, Smith has always been and by the looks of it always will be a supporter of Sir David Murray.

When Sir David Murray sold up and handed the club to Craig Whyte, Walter Smith ended his time at Rangers as manager a few months later, handing over the reins to assistant Ally McCoist.

As the club descended into administration and liquidation, Smith stood above the parapets to denounce the way Craig Whyte had managed the club, stating that when Whyte took over the Ibrox side it had no debt.

Not once did Smith denounce Sir David Murray for building up the huge debt in the first place – knowing that he was part of the problem during his two stints at the club, spending tens of millions that the club actually did not have.

A month after the club went into administration, Smith gave his backing to Paul Murray and the Blue Knights in their desire to buy the club, at the time he said: “I know Paul Murray. I don’t know the other people so there isn’t a fair comparison to make with any other buyer. I don’t know Paul that well, only through his time on the board but Paul would have the interests of the football club at heart.

“Maybe that is what’s needed more than anything else at the present moment. On a personal basis, I would be pleased if he gets it because he has made no secret of wanting to be involved in owning the club. He was at the forefront of ideas in previous years. So if he does get it then I think that would be good for the football club.”

So Smith was backing the same Paul Murray who was part of the Rangers board that ran up huge debts at the club during his tenure as well as previous incumbents.

Smith then fronted a consortium including businessmen Jim McColl and Douglas Park in a failed bid to take control of the club after Charles Green had purchased the club’s assets after a CVA was rejected and the dark cloud of the HMRC EBT investigation did not follow the ‘new’ Rangers.

Despite failing to secure the club’s assets, Smith eventually wished the new club all the best, after he had initially told the Rangers supporters not to buy season tickets on the grounds that the new owners could not be trusted.

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Jump to November, he accepted an invitation from chief executive Charles Green to return to Ibrox as a non-executive director – the same regime that Smith had earlier stated could not be trusted.

From the time that he joined the board until the time that he took up the chairmanship, Smith was silent. Even after his appointment as chairman he kept a ‘dignified’ silence. When the fans demanded answers on what was happening, he stayed silent throughout.

During his time he picked up £50,000 to June 2013 not to mention a healthy slice of shares in the holding company, yet when the fans were demanding answers ‘the so-called man who could be trusted by the Rangers fans’ was silent throughout. Why?

Jump a few months further to the present day, Smith warned the current regime to listen to the fans, he said: “We’ve seen the banners at games. If you’re a manager you expect fans to show discontent in that way. But it’s the first time I can recall the board taking criticism like that, which has to be an indication of something. A manager would see it as some sort of an indication he was struggling. It should indicate to the board that Rangers are also in the middle of a struggle.”

I guess he missed the years of Rangers fans chanting, demanding and unfurling banners during the remaining years of Murray’s tenure to quit the club.

Not only that he also gave his support to former Rangers director Dave King – in the same week that Craig Mather flew to South Africa to meet the shamed businessman in a bid to persuade him to return to Rangers.

Smith added: “I don’t know if Dave coming back makes sense. What makes sense any longer? If Rangers get an owner back, one who’s interested in the football side of the club and wants to see the team progress, that would be good. But I don’t see him coming back to sit among the board as it is.”

Currently Rangers have Sandy Easdale involved in some capacity, who was a convicted fraudster and one who has paid his dues rightly so. Now we have the current regime flirting with King to get him on board, along with Smith backing a man who pled guilty of charges that the South African government hit him with.

You really can’t make it up can you?

In October 2010, an appeal from King over the charges was thrown out, at the time SAR’s senior counsel argued: “King’s evidence was duly rejected in scathing terms by His Lordship, Mr Justice Southwood and two assessors. The judgement confirmed the assessments in all material respects. This included additional tax in the maximum percentage of 200% as a result of the fraudulent conduct of King.

“This conduct was not only in devising a scheme to thwart tax collection, but also as a result of him conducting the subsequent litigation since 2002 on a fraudulent basis for many years until eventually the trustees took control of the litigation in 2007. The Tax Court also held that the trustees did not act in a reasonable manner in allowing King so to do.”

A South African judge labelled the conduct of King as fraudulent, is this the sort of man who Rangers and their fans want involved at the club? Especially given what Whyte did to them?

Judge Southwood, who heard the case, said of King: “We saw King testify in chief and in cross-examination for four days and are unanimous in finding that he is a mendacious witness whose evidence should not be accepted on any issue unless it is supported by documents or other objective evidence. It was remarkable that King showed no sign of embarrassment or any emotion when he conceded that he had lied to the Commissioner in a number of his income tax returns. In our assessment he is a glib and shameless liar.

“King is a tall, slim man in his fifties. He appeared to be very confident and not in the slightest uncomfortable about giving evidence and being cross-examined. He is intelligent and articulate and appears to be well versed in the intricacies of the financial world and the purchasing and selling of shares on the JSE. Notwithstanding these advantages, he made a very poor impression as a witness. He is extremely arrogant and obviously thinks that whatever he says is so. It was demonstrated that he deliberately misrepresented the facts of the case to his legal representatives, to Sars in correspondence and at the section 74C inquiry and to the representatives and solicitors of the Bermuda Trust.

“As his evidence progressed it became clear that he has no respect for the truth and does not hesitate to lie or at least misrepresent the facts if he thinks it will be to his advantage. There can be little doubt that on most occasions King lied as he knew the correct facts and obviously decided to misrepresent these facts.”

So not only was he deemed a fraudster by the South African government, he is also labelled a liar to suit himself. Sounds familiar does it not? Although saying that Craig Whyte has not been convicted of fraud or tax evasion – YET!

King in fact made a plea and sentence agreement with the government to settle the long running battle between King and the authorities. He pled guilty to ’41 counts of contravening the Income Tax Act and agreed to pay a fine of R80,000 per count, or R3.28m’.

As reports stated in August: “The counts related to his wrongful failure to make certain required disclosures in his annual income tax returns to the South African Revenue Service (SARS) for more than 10 years, and for failure to submit tax returns for his companies Metlika and Ben Nevis.

“Other facts relevant to the agreed sentence were that the South African Revenue Service had instituted various actions against King and would recover R706.7m. King also agreed to pay the Criminal Assets Recovery Account R8.75m within 30 days.”

King also had many of his assets seized for more than seven years by the government.

After the deal was made an order of the court King admitted ‘that when the tax dispute arose many years ago, he took a conscious decision not to co-operate with authorities’.

King had already seen R350m recovered by SARS selling some of King’s assets, including a Falcon Jet, a game farm, a wine farm and some shares.

Yet Walter Smith backs this man? A man who knowingly took the decision to not co-operate with authorities and eventually pled guilty to 41 charges. If the Scottish FA had a specific Fit and Proper Person Test – which they do not – both King and Easdale would fail it with flying colours.

So the only man who can be trusted by the Rangers fans, supports a man like David King? A man who can be trusted by the Rangers support, who changes direction more times than a compass in the Bermuda Triangle.

I respect Smith as a football manager and what he has achieved, but Rangers fans have asked themselves what Brian Stockbridge and Craig Mather did to secure their wage and bonus – yet they have failed to question Walter Smith on what he did for his £50,000 plus shares?

Has Smith been a willing participant to pull the wool over the Rangers fans eyes so that they can buy season tickets or was he just another patsy? If fans groups and bloggers can be swayed with factions within and outwith the club’s board then why not a Rangers legend?

Despite Smith’s rhetoric when he was announced as chairman, he was passive. Back then he claimed: “….no one should believe that I see my role as a passive one. That hasn’t been my way in the past and it won’t be my way in the future.”

You can make your own minds up over Smith, his role at the club, the payments he received and whether he is the only tool that can win over Rangers fans. Will he come out and back the current regime or will he continue to stay silent on that matter? Is he still in receipt of shares within the holding company?

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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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