SPFL has ‘no legal power’ to further punish Rangers over EBTs

The SPFL have announced they cannot further punish Rangers. Picture: John Devlin
The SPFL have announced they cannot further punish Rangers. Picture: John Devlin
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The Scottish Professional Football League has declared it has “no legal power” to reopen disciplinary action surrounding the Rangers tax case.

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Legal advice given to the SPFL in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling that Rangers should have paid tax on about £50million of payments to players and staff, is that a pre-existing commission or a new commission cannot issue fresh sanctions.

Rangers were fined £250,000 in 2013 after an independent commission set up by the Scottish Premier League and led by Lord Nimmo Smith ruled they had breached rules relating to the non-disclosure of documents associated with the Employee Benefit Trust payments, but had gained no “unfair competitive advantage”.

The SPFL has said it supports calls for an independent review of how Scottish football authorities dealt with the situation.

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A statement read: “The SPFL Board today announced, following legal advice from eminent Senior Counsel, Gerry Moynihan QC, that there will be no further disciplinary proceedings taken by the SPFL connected with the use by Rangers of EBTs and other tax schemes.

“The SPFL Board further announced that it supports the calls that have been made for an independent review concerning the way in which Scottish football’s authorities have dealt with non-payment of tax by clubs, have applied their rules and regulations, and the sufficiency of changes made to their rules and regulations in this area over the last few years.”

The league published advice by Moynihan, which included that the breaches of SPL rules “are now closed and cannot be re-opened by the SPFL nor can the commission or a new commission now impose further or different sanctions. The SPFL has no power in law to re-open these issues and the commission has no power in law, assuming it wished to do so, to modify or supplement the sanction previously imposed.”

Calls for Rangers to be stripped of titles won during the EBT years, from 2001 to 2010, intensified after the Supreme Court ruling earlier this month and groups representing supporters of Aberdeen, Dundee United and Celtic added their voice.

Celtic had left the authorities in no doubt that they expected the case to be reviewed but the Scottish Football Association ruled out action “at this time” hours after the Supreme Court verdict, citing unspecified legal advice.

The SPFL has gone a step further in publishing full details of the legal opinion it received and it has already approached the SFA over a potential review.

Moynihan’s advice also stated that there were no provisions in the league rules over the failure of Rangers to pay the required tax, and that the league had no power to instigate action over allegations that clubs damaged the reputation of the game.

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The SPFL has since introduced rules relating to the non-payment of tax - delays trigger transfer embargoes - and says it bolstered those regulations at its annual general meeting on Monday.

Outgoing SPFL chairman Ralph Topping said: “The board of the SPFL has noted the calls that have been made for an independent review and report concerning the way in which Scottish football’s authorities have dealt with non-payment of tax by clubs, application of their rules and regulations and the sufficiency of changes made to their rules and regulations in this area over the last few years.

“The board of the SPFL supports those calls for such an independent review and will seek to facilitate such review and the publication of its report with and to the Scottish FA. The SPFL will seek to agree terms of reference with the Scottish FA and the identification of appropriate independent reviewers.”

The matter might not be closed though as initial preparations for a crowd-funded legal review appear to have begun before official confirmation of the SPFL’s position.