It’s a long time since I’ve written about the nefarious tax affairs of the former Rangers Football Club. But yesterday’s decision by appeal judges Lord Carloway, Lord Menzies and Lord Drummond Young has brought the matter right back into the public eye.
In simple terms, the judges ruled in HRMC’s favour over its claim that the former Rangers were liable for a £46.2 million bill over the use of Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs) to make payments to players, managers and staff.
So what I and many others have been saying since the start of this sordid affair is now official: the former Rangers Football Club broke the law many times over many years. It paid football players, managers and ever former managers through a tax evasion scheme that defrauded the public purse out of tens of millions of pounds.
Now the financial consequences of this relate solely to the legal entity now called RFC 2012 PLC (in liquidation) – the old club. The new club playing out of Ibrox, Rangers International Football Club plc Group (formerly Sevco Scotland Ltd), has no liability.
But the sporting consequences of years of tax fraud have yet to be settled.
The Commission for the former Scottish Premier League headed by Lord Nimmo Smith back in 2013 ruled that the use of EBTs without informing the football authorities of the payments was a breach of football’s player registration rules and fined the former club £250,000.
LNS did not however look into the legality of the EBT scheme. That was a matter for the courts and beyond his remit. The Commission assumed the scheme to be lawful and therefore ruled that no sporting advantage accrued to the club from its deliberate administrative omissions.
We now know differently. And that changes everything.
LNS assumed omissions in administering a legal scheme. We now know that the omissions were actually part of an attempt to cover up large scale illegal non payment of taxes.
Failure to register players correctly may or may not have led to a sporting advantage. But failure to pay over £40,000,000 in tax undoubtedly did. And that’s what must now be addressed.
Every club in Scottish football lost out in some way from this long term and wide scale tax fraud. Whether through losing access to European competitions, missing out on league prize money or potential cup runs or receiving a smaller share of tv cash. Everyone lost – and only one club gained.
The former Rangers Football Club attracted players it could not otherwise have afforded to pay. It kept vast sums that should have been paid in tax while every other club fulfilled its social obligations. And it used this unfair advantage to win league titles and cups.
So today I’m calling on all football clubs in Scotland to demand action from the SFA and SPFL. Demand that the matter is looked into again in light of yesterday’s court ruling and remove all of the tainted titles from the former football club. Let the record books show that crime doesn’t pay.
And I’m also calling on fans of all clubs to ensure that this happens. Write to your chairman or chairwoman and ask him or her to act immediately. Scottish football fans have shown before that pressure can be brought to bear – remember how attempts to parachute the new club from Ibrox straight into the Championship were defeated?
If all of Scotland’s clubs call for the tainted titles and contaminated cups to be removed the authorities will have to act. They are membership organisations after all.
If we all work together we can ensure that sporting fairness wins out.