You Spin Me Right Round Baby!
Yes, “You Spin Me Round”, that rather monotonous hit from Dead or Alive in the mid 1980’s. In light of the news from the First Tier Tax Tribunal (FTT(T)) earlier this week, if you stand still and listen hard, you’ll be able to hear this song blasting out of several buildings around Scotland which house sections of the mainstream media.
“Rangers would have survived!”, “We’re owed tens of millions in compensation!” and (my personal favourite) “Rangers were like an innocent man on death row!” are just some of the headlines and opinions that have been surging onto all forms of media from all angles since Rangers “won” their Big Tax Case (BTC) appeal. The ongoing spin from certain outlets is simply incredible. This misinformation and the innate ability of some to totally ignore fairly critical facts have been amazing, if not unsurprising, for those accustomed with sections of the Scottish media.
So, let’s try to be objective and look at what’s really going on here. Rangers Football Club (1872 – now in liquidation) did indeed have a fairly successful result with regards to their FTT(T) appeal. Thanks to two votes from Mr Mure and Mr Rae, the old club had it’s appeal upheld; no thanks, of course, to Dr Poon, the individual who voted against Mr Mure and Mr Rae. Interestingly, these three panel members have been named openly, and yet there have been no threats made against them by other Scottish Football supporters; no threats against themselves, their families, or their properties; and no visits from anti-terror police either. Now, that doesn’t do much for the “no one Club has any more of a problem than another” mantra now does it? Of course, nowadays, that mantra should really refer to “one active Club” and “one defunct Club”, but I digress.
Unsurprisingly, as the decision given by the FTT(T) was not unanimous, there are several different opinions to be found within the one hundred and forty five page verdict delivered by the panel. I shall go onto discuss these in some detail. However, you may not think there was any significant levels of disagreement present if you were to take your news from certain sections of the Scottish media.
Where shall we start? Well, the Daily Record seems like a good place, with an article headlined “Sir David Murray Blasts HMRC For “Destroying a Scottish Institution” By Making The Club Unsellable” written by Keith McLeod. It is made up predominantly of quotes from a “source close to Sir David Murray”, but the party line is clear for all to see.
Within the first few lines, this piece states that “A source close to the former Ibrox chief claimed Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs had a vendetta against the club” and offers you a link to another article entitled, “How Taxman Probe Took Rangers To The Brink Of Oblivion”. Clearly, the almost endless catalogue of errors, many of which were thanks to none other than Sir David Murray himself, not to mention the actions of Mr Whyte, the man the Daily Record described as a “billionaire” and a “financial whizzkid”, were not worthy of mention? Finally, they proceed to have a veiled dig at the anonymous “Rangers Tax Case” blogger, stating:
“Four days ago, someone who has been a supposed constant source of information on this story posted a web blog saying HMRC were simply awaiting victory. And although HMRC have known this result for three weeks ahead of it being announced, it is amazing that that has not leaked, isn’t it? They have destroyed a Scottish institution. They may appeal, but what are they going to appeal against? They have destroyed the only thing they can appeal against.You can’t argue with the facts.”
Staying with the Daily Record for the moment, the propaganda stream continued with articles entitled “SPL Must Scrap Hearing Into Rangers Use of EBT’s After “Big Tax Case” Victory, Says Fans’ Representative” and “Ex-Rangers Favourite Michael Mols Tells SPL To Ditch Investigation Into Dual Contracts”.
The first of these two articles regards the opinions of John MacMillan, secretary of the Rangers Supporters Clubs. He goes on to state that “We have been called cheats and that we got titles because we were paying this money illegally. Well, that has been proved to be false. I hope the people who made these accusations will be big enough to come out and apologise. The club has now been vindicated and the cries of ‘cheating’ and all these allegations against us have been unfounded.”
Now, Mr MacMillan is perfectly entitled to his opinion, as am I, and as are you reading this. Whilst many would disagree with Mr MacMillan’s opinions, he cannot be criticised for holding them. However, what I feel should be criticised is the Daily Record’s total lack of any contradictory opinion, especially when it is so easily available.
Take paragraph 161 from the FTT(T)’s verdict for example, which states:
161. Side-letters, of course, had not been registered with the football authorities, the SFA and SPL. The spirit of their rules was that the whole contract terms should be registered. Suspiciously, no evidence was led as to who decided that the benefits in terms of the side-letters should not be registered. Non-registration of side-letters was incompatible with both authorities’ policing and disciplinary powers. For example any fines imposed on players would customarily reflect the disclosed wage. Nondisclosure would thwart the authorities’ powers.”
Or, as another example, from one of Murray International Holdings and Rangers’ witnesses, in paragraph 37:
“Mr Black did not consider the Trust as a means of tax avoidance, but rather as a means of retaining and rewarding loyal employees. So far as Rangers was concerned it enabled the Club to attract players who would not otherwise have been obtainable.”
From these two tiny exerts from the mammoth document, you can see that there is a clear, well defined argument which suggests the views of Mr MacMillan and Mr Mols are nothing other than arrant nonsense. Whether the EBT’s were illegal (with regards to tax) is largely irrelevant with regards to Scottish Football. The fact these side letters were actively concealed from the governing bodies is critical. Obviously, there is debate as to whether or not this concealment breached their rules (I believe it did), but to ignore this potential totally is simply unbelievable.
In Mr Mols’ article, he uses a similar rhetoric to that of Mr MacMillan, stating “Hopefully after this first victory the case can be dropped over the stripping of titles. They can’t take my titles anyway. They can try if they want but I won them fairly and squarely on the field of play.”
Clearly, Mr Mols has no grasp of the effects on Scottish Football of the financial doping which clearly took place, regardless of it’s actual (and debatable) legality. Interestingly though, he finishes the article with the following quote, “Listen, the financial guy at Rangers came up with the plan. It wasn’t my idea – so if there is any liability now, it’s not mine.”
This poses a rather intriguing question, which had crossed my mind prior to reading the article itself. If HMRC do not appeal the FTT(T)’s decision, then the benefactors of EBT’s will be liable for the tax owed to the revenue on them. Now, I don’t think many of these individuals would be too happy with that, so we’re left with an interesting possibility. Could we see ex-players (if not ex-staff as well) of the old Ibrox club challenging this decision in court? Mr Mols was paid over £250,000 through his remuneration trust, and the tax liability for that amount of money is unlikely to be an insubstantial amount.
Once again, this possibility is totally ignored by the Daily Record.
Our final look at the Daily Record on this occasion regards an article, published today, which features claims from ex-Ibrox director Paul Murray that “The Club [Rangers] could be owed tens of millions of pounds in damages”. Quite how Mr Murray arrives at this opinion is beyond me. The old club were found guilty when the “Big Tax Case” was first considered. It is only through the majority verdict of an appeal that this guilt has been somewhat diminished. This decision could still be appealed by HMRC, although this possibility is ignored in the article. Personally, I’d say if Mr Murray wanted to blame someone for the demise of the old Ibrox Club, he’d be better looking at the actions of Mr Whyte and Duff & Phelps.
And now, a couple of guest appearances from the Scottish Sun, featuring none other than Andy Goram and Bill Leckie, that well known bastion of truth. Beginning with Mr Goram, whilst parts of his article are a good laugh, others are simply untrue. To be fair to Mr Goram though, he does highlight the fact HMRC could still appeal, and also that “Sadly it’s all far too late for Rangers now.”
The article begins with “The guy has trod the grim and ghastly path down Death Row. The lethal injection’s been dealt, his heart’s slowed to a stop. Only for the real facts to be uncovered which prove he didn’t commit a crime in the first place. That’s what these last 48 hours have felt like for Rangers and the club’s dumbfounded fans. We’d been labelled as tax cheats and accused of winning titles by fraudulent means. It’s a great feeling to know that’s gone now.”
He then goes onto state “My nine-in-a-row team-mate Richard Gough wrote in SunSport yesterday that the club being cleared of the Big Tax Case was our greatest-ever victory. There’s no doubt that’s the case in my eyes too. We’ve been punished in every way possible. There was administration then liquidation, being relegated and losing players. All for something that was never ever proven. That’s something I just find amazing. Now should be the time for the apologies to start with the footballing authorities and HMRC at the head of the queue.”
Now, where to start? First of all, regardless of what sections of the media may like to portray, Rangers Football Club (1872) are not the innocent victims here. Even if they won the Big Tax Case in it’s entirety (which they did not as some guilt was admitted) and they had been totally cleared of all liabilities, they would still have had debts of over £50 million, and, regardless of what some would try to have you believe, their prospects of survival would still have been nigh on zero.
The innocent victims here are the unsecured creditors, businesses big and small (as well as individuals) who carried out work for Rangers Football Club and were left penniless for their efforts. The innocent victims are the taxpayers, who, through the money owed from the small tax case and the unpaid VAT/PAYE accredited to the reign of Mr Whyte, were left penniless. To say Rangers Football Club are innocent is an incredible, and totally untrue statement.
Fundamentally, with or without the Big Tax Case, Rangers would still have ran out of money last season, and would still have entered administration. Perhaps they could have avoided liquidation, but only if they had turned up a buyer with tens of millions of pounds to spend. Now, they were unsuccessful in this regard, with no likely buyers with anything close to that sort of financial clout coming forward to their aide as it was, so I highly doubt one would have magically rode to their rescue without the BTC debt.
Finally, we come to Mr Leckie and his attempted character assassination of the person (or persons) behind the “Rangers Tax Case” blog. Now, for the record, I should state that, unequivocally, I have absolutely no idea as to who the anonymous blogger (or bloggers) may be. However, I have seen numerous threats made against individuals whom some people have wrongly claimed to be involved with RTC. One well known Rangers supporting blogger should be particularly apologetic about these threats, having recently wrongly accused an individual in an article of his.
Returning to Mr Leckie, writing for the Scottish Sun, he states “The site closed down in June, claiming like some superhero zooming into the ether that its work was done. Yesterday, though, after Rangers were cleared of making illegal side-payments to players, it re-appeared briefly to conclude that it had been “accurate on all of the major points of the case except the one that matters most to date — the outcome.”
“You know, in the way that a learner driver sitting their test does everything needed to pass apart from the moment when they smash into a tree.”
He later continues “On t’internet, though, proof is NEVER a problem. You set yourself up as an expert, you say what the hell you like — and you don’t even have to put your name or face to it. It’s perfect. In fact, far from your anonymity being seen as some form of cowardice, it turns you into Batman — or say, Bloggerman — with a laptop; the seeker of justice whose very life would be in danger if ever the mask slipped. Those who buy into your views buy into them a million per cent. They accept every word as gospel that makes the mainstream even more despicable for what they HAVEN’T written. You even get a trophy for the mantlepiece in your secret hideaway. Back in May, The Rangers Tax Case Blog won the Orwell Prize — named after the ground-breaking author George — for the year’s best blog.”
Once again I find myself wondering quite where to begin. The Rangers Tax Case blog has been roundly applauded by those with no connection to Rangers Football Club because it has been, on the whole, very accurate. RTC were discussing matters at Ibrox with both knowledge and vigour months and months before large sections of the mainstream media even began to mention it. Equally well, the Rangers Tax Case blog has been roundly criticised and talked down by those with a connection to Rangers Football Club because it has been, on the whole, very accurate.
I find myself stumped when people genuinely ask the question, “why has the individual or individuals involved remained anonymous?”. Let’s be honest here, the demise of Rangers has been a very emotive issue for it’s supporters, naturally. However, the threats made against those who criticised the club during this time have been almost countless in their number. Counter-terrorist officers have visited several people, and nobody has been excluded from the glare of this minority of lunatics. Whether it was those inside the governing bodies, the media, or those online, threats have been made left, right, and centre.
How many of these were genuine is another question entirely, but the important point here is that threats were made. Generally, the closer to the mark you were, the more you received. Even I myself have received a few, and I am, on the grand scheme of things, only the administrator of a small website. So what would the person or people behind RTC have to gain from naming themselves? Simple. Nothing.
I’m sure if it was Mr Leckie behind RTC, he’d hardly jump at the chance to potentially put himself, those around him, or his property in danger?
Ironically, as Mr Leckie finishes his article, he alludes to the menacing side of the Ibrox club’s support, saying “And now, those same Bluenoses will go looking for anyone and everyone who they perceive to have kicked their club when it was down. So they can kick back, twice as hard.”
Seriously, what can I say to that? It’s just beyond belief. Simply because the blog that was once described as “99% crap” got the result of the FTT(T) appeal wrong and had the guts and determination to discuss matters that the mainstream media ignored, the “blue noses” should move to “kick back” against those who have wronged them? It’s insanity.
Also, don’t forget that all of this comes from the man who accused the Celtic support of intentionally disrupting a minute’s silence before a New Year Derby match for the victims of the Ibrox Disaster (1971) by coughing in sync with one another! And yet, this is no crazy, uneducated, clueless internet blogger, this is a man who writes for newspapers and appears on both radio and television with some regularity.
If this is the best that sections of the mainstream media can offer to the Scottish public, then I say “long live the internet bampots!” because they may not always be right, but they’ll always search for something which seems to evade certain “journalists” time and time again, the truth. No wonder newspaper circulation continues to fall…
And so, what is left for me to say? Well, I suppose the first question many would ask would be “will HMRC appeal?” This is difficult to answer with any certainty, especially as I do not, and have never claimed to have, any inside information with regards to this ongoing saga.
Personally, I’d expect HMRC to appeal, considering the potential legal ramifications if they chose not to. Essentially, Rangers (1872) and Murray International Holdings (MIH) have attempted to conceal what was, at best, a very bizarre, totally outlandish tax scheme behind a “coat of many colours”. This coat was made from Mr Red, Mr Yellow and the other colourful pseudonyms given to witnesses for the two groups, but just because you cover something does not mean it was not there.
These “loans”, which employees essentially only have to repay upon their deaths, risk setting a precedent. If HMRC do not appeal, then the individual employees become liable for the tax associated with them, and if this occurs we may well see legal challenges from ex-players as mentioned earlier.
If this is deemed acceptable, then I’d want any employers of mine to “loan” me my wages, without paying tax on them, and Hector could have his share once I eventually shuffled off this mortal coil.
If the SFA and SPL decide that the undeclared side letters were legal, then the same applies. What’s to stop Celtic, Aberdeen, Dundee United, or Elgin City (whoever you like really) to start implementing identical schemes nowadays in order to help bring in players that would otherwise be outside of their financial range? Once again, it’s simple, because in footballing terms at least, they’re illegal.
Finally, I’ll leave you with some of the thoughts of “Inspector 1″, a witness for HMRC at the FTT(T):
“The change of Trustee from Equity to Trident and the circumstances in which this was made ie Equity’s reservations about advancing loans, was a further factor encouraging Inspector 1 to conclude that the loan arrangements were a sham. The management and processing of sub-trusts and loans was consistent with this, he suggested. Further, it seemed to him that there was no expectation on the part of the employees to have to repay the loans.”
Loans you don’t pay any tax on, and never have to pay back whilst you still breath, as part of your wages? I wonder if Sevco are looking for staff?