The Upper Tier Tribunal (UTT) sitting on HMRC v Murray International Holdings (MIH) has ordered HMRC’s demand for unpaid tax to be reduced substantially. Claims Sir David Murray Employee Benefit Trust should be taxed were dismissed, but the UTT was not prepared to endorse that guaranteed bonus payments paid to Rangers players should not be taxed.
During the First Tier Tribunal MIH acknowledged tax should have been paid on EBTs given to a further five players, who were removed from the judgement (although the tax was never paid). Lord Nimmo Smith’s SPL Inquiry found Rangers guilty of not disclosing side-letters given to players which contractually bound EBT payments and arrangements. The Inquiry issued Oldco Rangers with a fine of £250,000. Newco Rangers agreed to pay all of Oldco’s football debts as a price to gain entry to the SFA and league structure. It is anticipated this fine will be collected in the event the club reaches top flight football.
Rangers did not dispute they operated an illegal Discount Options Scheme, which was uncovered by Craig Whyte’s investigators, when he carried out due diligence before buying the club from Sir David Murray. Tax due on this scheme was never paid.
Once in control, Whyte continued to operate the club’s tax arrangements in similar ethical standards. He failed to pay VAT, PAYE or National Insurance. Several hundred other creditors were left in the lurch as the club was liquidated.
At its heart, this is a morality tale. The first lesson which should be drawn is that it is far better to disclose your tax arrangements to the authorities than to hide them. When Celtic employed Juninho, who had an earlier EBT, they disclosed this fact and subsequent transactions to HMRC (Celtic never issued rule-breaking side-letters either).
Perhaps the most important lesson is not to allow debt to get out of control. Armed with the Discount Options Scheme and tax not paid on contractually guaranteed bonuses, HMRC were legally bound to pursue the club for money the tax payer was due – and will almost certainly never be paid.
Once that train was in motion, the club was at the mercy of its bank. MIH held substantial commercial property assets at this time, when the UK commercial property market took an average 45% nosedive. Then the bank itself (HBOS) was sold, exposing legacy arrangements to full commercial scrutiny.
Even then, even then, Rangers could have used the bonus of Champions League income to either rapidly pay-down their bank debt, or retain as a hedge against the consequences of the on-going tax dispute. Instead Walter Smith returned to the transfer market, spending what he could to keep his nose in front of Celtic.
This was an arrogant and fatal mistake.
When Whyte put his £1 on the table there was nothing the Independent Board Committee could do to dissuade Sir David from selling, but by then all the cards had been played, an insolvency event was on the horizon unless someone coughed up £18m to repay the overdraft, and no one was prepared to do this.
In the unedifying final days the club was reduced to turning, cap in hand, to lifelong adversaries to ask for rule changes which never arrived.
Despite all of this, humility among this lot is scarcer than a fully paid up tax receipt.
It took dozens of people working to promote Rangers on-field activities to kill the club. Those who failed to disclose side-letters, those who allowed debt to get out of control, those who sat on boards which endorsed Smith’s spending knowing the potential consequences, those who campaigned against the people who disclosed Whyte’s background, were all necessary for this outcome. Their reputations are now co-dependent
Celtic fans, HMRC nor the SFA killed Rangers. None of them* knew about the Discount Options Scheme, the undisclosed side-letters, the unpaid VAT, PAYE or NI bills. None of them decided to spend more than was prudently possible.
Killing Rangers was an inside job. The biggest rivalry in football is gone; we won, by an avalanche of own goals.
*apart from SFA president Campbell Ogilvie, who knew exactly what was going on.[calameo code=0003901719d82038831a9 lang=en page=126 hidelinks=1 width=100% height=500]