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Is the Rangers EBT saga the biggest scandal in Scottish Football history?

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A bitter pill to swallow. It sticks in the back of my mind. It still rankles. We have always felt 100% cheated.

These are comments from former Rangers manager Walter Smith and striker Mark Hateley as both looked back on the 1992/93 European Cup campaign several years ago. The eventual winners of the European Cup, Marseille, were caught up in a bribery scandal following their victory.

Bernard Tapie, the Marseille owner, was eventually jailed for match-fixing and the club were relegated to Ligue 2 as a result. Because of this many Rangers fans, players and officials still claim they were cheated out of a place in the European Cup Final and that Marseille should be stripped of their European crown – UEFA still recognises Marseille as European champions.

Jump to 4th November 2015.

The Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that Rangers’ use of the Employee Benefits Trust to avoid paying income, WAS indeed subject to income tax.

Indeed, during the First Tier Tribunal case back in 2012, evidence and testimony was given that Rangers could only afford certain players wage and bonus demands by using the EBT scheme.

Between the years of 2000 and 2011, in which the EBT scheme was used, Rangers fielded players they could not afford without using this tax avoidance scheme – winning 13 major trophies during this time [five League titles, four Scottish Cups and four League Cups].

40% of Rangers players benefited from the EBT scheme.

Five league titles that could have been won by Celtic; four League Cups that could have been won by Ayr United, Celtic, Motherwell or St.Mirren’s; and four Scottish Cups that could have been won by Rangers, Dundee, Queen of the South and Falkirk. All these clubs followed the rules of our game [unlike Rangers]and they did not build up their sides using a tax avoidance scheme.

There is also the issue of European qualification both at Champions League level and at the then-UEFA Cup level. How many clubs were affected by Rangers winning the title or the cups preventing those clubs who followed the rules from qualifying for Europe? How many millions did they lose out on?

These teams didn’t win because Rangers won on the pitch we all get that, however would Rangers have won these honours IF they did not pay their players through the EBT scheme? Especially with the judgement that some of these EBTers would have taken their services elsewhere if Rangers had not paid they what they wanted.

That point is up for debate as much as Rangers’ complaints over Marseille’s bribery scandal and allegations surrounding their European Cup win. In fact Rangers fans demanded that Marseille be stripped of their crown, but now with rival fans demanding the same of Rangers [who would potentially lose 13 trophies]these same Rangers fans are calling such calls sour grapes.

A tad ironic would you not say?

There is no denying that Rangers used the EBT scheme and players profited by these so-called ‘loans’ whose repayable date seems to be as much of a mystery as how most of Scotland’s sports mainstream media continue to ignore Sir David Murray’s part in Rangers demise.

When BBC Scotland revealed all about the EBT scheme, Murray made a criminal complaint, claiming that such information was ‘private and confidential’. Was he worried about the tax bill heading his way or the possibility of being stripped of the honours, which he funded by taking out bank loan after bank loan helped by ‘acquaintances’ in positions of power at the Bank of Scotland.

The questions of Rangers gaining an unfair sporting advantage by using EBTs will continue for weeks, months and years from now. But if Marseille are stripped of their titles for bribery, if Lance Armstrong can be stripped of his titles for doping, why should Rangers get away with financial doping in the Scottish game?

In 2012, the SPL [now SPFL]announced an independent commission chaired by judge Lord Nimmo Smith to investigate alleged non-disclosed player payments at Rangers relating to EBTs.

The commission found Rangers guilty of not disclosing payments to the football authorities, a clear breach of our game’s rules and fined the club £250,000 – which has still not been paid. However, the commission ruled out any sporting penalty, claiming that non-disclosure did not affect the eligibility of the players.

BUT Wednesday’s judgement and the comments of Lord Drummond Young now make a mockery of Nimmo Smith’s conclusion. Lord Drummond Young said in his ruling that if the club hadn’t operated the EBT scheme, some players “might well have taken their services elsewhere”.

Many are now calling for Lord Nimmo Smith’s original commission to revisit their judgement after all they accepted a tax tribunal’s ruling that the EBTs were lawful – before the full process had been completed.

Nimmo Smith claimed that the use of the EBTs to minimise tax liability was not a breach of SPL rules.

He added: “What we are concerned with is the fact that the side-letters issued to the Specified Players, in the course of the operation of the EBT scheme, were not disclosed to the SPL and the SFA as required by their respective Rules.”

“Oldco’s failure to disclose the side-letters to the SPL and the SFA was at least partly motivated by a wish not to risk prejudicing the tax advantages of the EBT scheme, we are unable to reach the conclusion that this led to any competitive advantage.”

So not only did Rangers fail to disclose the side letters and information of the EBTs to the game’s governing body, they did not hand them over because they didn’t want to prejudice their tax avoidance scheme.

Surely Lord Drummond’s judgement now supersedes any ruling made by Nimmo Smith on EBTs being lawful with it now being null and void – based on a decision which has now been appealed and overturned.

Nimmo Smith in his judgement also criticised the directors of old Rangers for failing to follow rules on disclosing payments.

He added: “The directors of Oldco must bear a heavy responsibility for this. While there is no question of dishonesty, individual or corporate, we nevertheless take the view that the nondisclosure must be regarded as deliberate, in the sense that a decision was taken that the sideletters need not be or should not be disclosed.”

This not only includes the ultimate architect of the scheme Sir David Murray, who profited the most from the EBT scheme, receiving £6.3m. But also current Rangers chairman David Murray and director Paul Murray. These individuals were deemed to have taken a deliberate decision to refuse to disclose the sideletters in clear breach of SPL rules and regulations.

On top of Dave King’s 41 tax convictions in South Africa, the Scottish FA still deemed him to be a Fit and Proper Person. You can’t make it up.

However, not only were David Murray, Paul Murray and Dave King criticised, so to were Campbell Ogilvie and Andrew Dickson who also had places on the Rangers board during those years. In fact Andrew Dickson was the Financial Controller at Rangers during the years that the EBT scheme was in operation and received £33,000 himself from it.

Dickson, who is still at Rangers as Head of Football Administration, was the same Dickson who filed the ‘fit and proper’ documentation for Craig Whyte with the Scottish FA – despite the self-proclaimed billionaire serving a ban from holding a directorship with any UK company.

Now there is no evidence that Dickson concealed that fact from the Scottish FA, but surely a man of his intelligence and experience would have done background checks on the next Rangers owner himself rather than rely on the same guff that many of our mainstream media journalists were handed?

When Campbell Ogilvie left Rangers in 2005, Dickson reportedly took over the bulk of the player registration work from him, working closely with the Scottish FA and SPL in registering players including many of those in receipt of EBTs – which went undeclared to the governing bodies along with the side letters.

A Scottish FA Disciplinary Tribunal held in 2013 into Rangers and Craig Whyte laid out Dickson’s role, stating: “That for some years commencing prior to 6 May 2011 Mr Andrew Dickson C.A. has been the Head of Football Administration of Rangers FC.

“His duties prior to 6 May 2011 included preparation of players contracts with players and their agents. His duties included representing Rangers FC and the Glasgow Football Association on various committees within the sport. His duties included all administrative responsibilities, and in particular he dealt with all football registration requirements and documentation which required lodging with the Scottish FA, the Scottish Premier League, UEFA and elsewhere.

“The role included preparation of the Official Return detailing the identities and personal details of all directors and officers of Rangers FC which required to be lodged with the Scottish FA each year prior to the new playing season and any amendment form which might become necessary on account of board or management changes occurring during the playing season.

“Mr Dickson had carried out this role continuously and competently for many years and is highly experienced and knowledgeable about club, player, official, and ground registration and licensing matters.

“The appointment of any new director to the Board of Rangers FC was an appointment which required registration procedures to be completed and fell squarely within Mr Dickson’s experience and remit.

“Such an appointment required to be intimated by the completion and lodging of an amendment form relative to the Rangers FC Official Return, specifying the appointment and lodging the director’s details with the Scottish FA.

“The amendment form requires the director involved personally to sign a declaration, having regard to Article 10 of the Articles of Association of the Scottish FA, in relation to disclosure of any matter (emphasis added) which should be brought to the attention of the Scottish FA in order to allow it to satisfy itself that the director is a fit and proper person to be appointed to the position within the game. Rangers FC through its Secretary is required to sign and “confirm that the information supplied above is complete, true and accurate and that Articles 10, 13, 14 and 15 have been complied with”.

And this is the same Dickson that the Scottish FA recently appointed to their Football Regulatory Advisory Group in the summer of this year.

Then you have Campbell Ogilvie, who was appointed a director of Rangers in 1989 until September 2005 following a boardroom re-shuffle. Not only was he privy to the EBT scheme he was also party to it – receiving £95,000 for his troubles.

In a statement published via the Scottish FA website in 2012, the then-Scottish FA President, Ogilvie said: “I was aware of the EBT scheme in operation at Rangers during my time at the club and, indeed, was a member. The existence of the scheme was published in Rangers’ annual accounts.

“My role at Rangers, until the mid-90s, included finalising the paperwork for player registrations.

“As confirmed by Sir David Murray today, it was never my role to negotiate contracts during my time at Rangers.
“It is also worth noting that, since the mid-90s, I was not responsible for the drafting or administering of player contracts.

“I ceased being company secretary in 2002 and became general secretary responsible for football strategy, in effect becoming the main point of contact between the club and the respective league and governing bodies.

“In relation to the recent investigation, I can confirm that I asked to be excluded from the Scottish FA’s independent inquiry into Rangers.

“In the interests of good governance it was absolutely right that this was the case.”

As soon as the SPL announced that they were holding an inquiry into the EBT payments and non-disclosure from 1998 [This EBT scheme was the SECOND tax avoidance payment system used by Rangers, with the first being used between 1999 to 2003, which Rangers were issued with a £2.8 million claim from HMRC for and Rangers conceded the case and were subject to paying of it.], the Scottish FA dropped their investigation and with that let the likes of their own President Campbell Ogilvie get away scot-free.

Indeed if Ogilvie was so concerned with the interests of good governance as Scottish FA President at a time of the SFA investigation – why did it take the BBC to out his part in all of this? Why did he fail to declare his own part to the governing body? Why did he not disclose the full extent of the EBT scheme to his Scottish FA brethern on record?

You also have the mysterious case of a former Rangers employee receiving £30,000 from the EBT scheme sum, 10 years after he left the Ibrox club.

Former Rangers player/manager Graeme Souness received £30,000 from the trust in 2001, despite leaving the club in 1991 to join Liverpool.

At the time of receiving his EBT, Souness was managing the English side Blackburn Rovers and according to the BBC investigation into Rangers’ EBT scheme: ‘just five weeks after requesting a payment from the trust, he [Souness] completed the signing of Turkey international midfielder Tugay Kerimoglu from Rangers. The BBC has seen files which showed that HMRC suspected Mr Souness’s payment could have been illegal in relation to the transfer of Tugay, but it found no additional documentation to verify it’.

Souness refused to speak to BBC Scotland on this matter and those of the Scottish media who did ask him [not many]were refused also. I am not claiming anything illegal took place – but it is strange that another club’s employee would receive a significant payment of £30,000 just weeks before a player was signed from the club which the EBT scheme was originating from.

That is a question that the SPL, the Scottish FA, the English FA, HMRC and UEFA have not answered or tackled. Why not?

The BBC journalist who investigated the Rangers EBT scheme, Mark Daly, wrote yesterday: “But ultimately, who has paid for this disaster? The fans, of course.”

I would only half agree with this though. The clubs who lost out on the chance of silverware paid Rangers misuse of the tax avoidance scheme, as did the fans of those clubs who could have been celebrating further silverware. Some for the first time in decades if not longer.

I believe that Daly is implying that it was the Rangers fans who have ‘paid for this disaster’…. maybe so, but during Murray’s 20 year reign including the years that the EBT scheme was in operation – these fans did not care where the money came from as long as they brought the best to the club, that they won silverware and above all in the immortal words of Sir David Murray ‘for every fiver Celtic spend, we will spend a tenner’.

These are the same Rangers fans who you can now see peddling the #EBTmemories hashtag online mocking fans of other clubs now seeing the hard cold reality of Rangers’ cheating of the taxman to buy success. These are the same fans that when their club committed financial suicide by failing to pay any tax whatsoever under owner Craig Whyte – then told Scottish football that ‘you would die without us and we will love it’. These are the poor innocent Rangers fans who targeted the late Turnbull Hutton and others at Raith Rovers [with abuse, threats of violence and to firebomb Stark’s Park]for their inspirational and strong leadership against the SPL and the Scottish FA’s bully boy tactics, threats and blackmail to force Rangers’ entry into Division One after the clubs in the SPL – with the threat of fan boycotts if they didn’t follow the rules – rejected Rangers’ entry to the top flight following their liquidation.

I am sorry the only people I feel sorry for are the clubs and supporters who were effectively shafted by Rangers’ underhanded tax avoidance schemes and those creditors who have still not been paid the money that they are owed by an organisation that funded their success on what is now deemed as a dodgy tax scheme and bank loans handed to Murray freely by pals in the Bank of Scotland – who have also escaped any investigation into their dealings either by the bank themselves, the financial watchdog or from the Scottish government itself.

Channel Four’s award winning journalist Alex Thomson, reported on Wednesday night: “The non payment of tax allowed the club to buy and pay players it could not otherwise have afforded. A previous legal judgement ruled that the club gained no advantage. Today’s successful appeal by the HMRC would seem to bring that ruling into question.

“There is no getting away from it – the upheld appeal means Rangers were systematically cheating the taxman whilst winning titles on the pitch.

He added: “In this context I have never forgotten what one prominent Rangers fan in the media said to me four years ago: ‘The entire world knows that Rangers have been at it with EBTs … but getting lawyers to prove it will be another matter’.”

In other sports – title stripping takes place for breaking the rules – indeed several Scottish football clubs have been kicked out of competitions for ‘administrative errors’ in the registration of players. Lord Nimmo Smith deemed Rangers’ side letters of players as 11 years of ‘administrative errors’ despite stating that the directors deliberately failed to disclose them to the governing bodies.

If Spartans, Livingston and other clubs can be held accountable for their so-called ‘admin errors’ why not Rangers? Is the Scottish FA and the SPFL scared of what the backlash would be from those in the Rangers camp? Or are they more worried about losing the money that Rangers bring to the table through ticket revenue, sponsorship and advertising deals? If that is the case then our governing bodies are the whores of world football and messers Stewart Regan & Neil Doncaster are the madams.

Can I see Rangers being stripped of those titles and trophies won during the EBT years? No. The only way anything like that could even look slightly to occur is if every Scottish football club in senior football rise up as one to denounce the goings on at Ibrox and demand justice and parity. I cannot see that happening can you?

Rangers will forever be haunted by this, reminded by it and so they should be. The truth hurts and the Ibrox club will go down in history as a club who used an illegal tax scheme to effectively bring players in they could not afford to beat their rivals to glory. Whatever word you want to use or try to whitewash over – it is a form of cheating no one can deny that.

Sir David Murray, who was the instigator in all of this and helped push Rangers into the slimy hands of Craig Whyte for £1, is football’s equivalent to Fred Goodwin. Goodwin’s knighthood, awarded in 2004 for “services to banking”, was annulled on 1 February 2012. When will Murray’s knighthood awarded in 2007 [during the EBT scheme period which he avoided paying tax to the same Queen who he was now getting a title off]for services to business in Scotland be annulled?

Surely if the banker has his knighthood annulled why not a man who officiated over the biggest scandal in Scottish sporting history, let alone football history.

The Scottish FA and the SPFL [formerly SPL]have a lot to answer for also and be questioned over, especially their part surrounding the investigation of Rangers and subsequently trying to force clubs into accepting their demands trying to safeguard one of their cash cows standing in the top flight of our game. If the Scottish government can call for a summit over handbags during a Glasgow derby game – then why not over the biggest scandal in Scottish sporting history?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

This period of Scottish football is now stained forever more by Rangers’ financial doping, just as Marseille’s time under Bernard Tapie is stained with bribery. Just as Rangers fans called on Marseille to be stripped of their European Cup crown, fans across Scottish football [and not just the predictable calls from rival Celtic supporters]are now calling for Rangers to be stripped of their silverware.

For Rangers and their fans to call for Marseille to be stripped of their crown and then criticise and attack those for demanding that the Ibrox side are stripped of their crowns – is a tad hypocritical don’t you think?

But if you thought this was the end of it you would be wrong. The mess at Rangers is not even close to completion, a mess of their own making and no one should feel any pity for them at all. The pity should be for Scottish football.

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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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