RANGERS chief executive Charles Green has claimed vindication on behalf of the Ibrox club after it was cleared of gaining any unfair sporting advantage through its controversial use of Employee Benefit Trust schemes from 2000 to 2011.
Sir David Murray, the former Rangers owner and chairman whose group of companies operated the EBTs, also welcomed the findings and accused the Scottish Premier League of “pursuing a retrospective witch hunt”.
The SPL’s Independent Commission, chaired by Lord William Nimmo Smith, did find Rangers guilty of breaching SPL rules regarding non-disclosure of payments to players and imposed a fine of £250,000.
The punishment was imposed on the liquidated “Oldco” Rangers, meaning that Green’s “Newco” incarnation of the club are not liable to pay it.
More significantly for Rangers and their supporters, Lord Nimmo Smith’s Commission found that the club did not field any ineligible players as a consequence of their rule breaches and so did not secure any playing advantage.
It had been widely speculated that Rangers could even be stripped of the five SPL titles they won during the period in question, one of a range of sanctions available to Lord Nimmo Smith and his two fellow Commission members, Charles Flint QC and Nicholas Stewart QC.
But, while their 42-page report, published at noon yesterday, was withering in its criticism of former Rangers directors and senior management for failing to fully disclose details of EBT payments to the football authorities, no sporting punishment has been applied.
For Green, who had consistently criticised the SPL board’s decision to press ahead with the Commission, the verdict made for satisfying reading.
“On behalf of the board of directors at Rangers, I note the findings of the Commission,” said Green in a statement.
“It is abundantly clear from the ruling there was no attempt by Rangers Football Club to secure any unfair advantage or to cheat, as so many people asserted without giving any regard to the actual evidence. I would reiterate that at no stage have I, nor anyone now involved in the running of this club, questioned the integrity of the Commission members. What I did question was the creation of a process which some people had predetermined. Every Rangers fan will be delighted that the Commission refused to get carried away on this agenda.
“It is a matter of fact that people within the SPL wanted me, at first, to surrender titles as part of a deal to enable Rangers to play again as a member of the SFA. I rejected and resisted that suggestion and today’s decision vindicates the position of the Board and the supporters. In particular, I would like to thank the Rangers Fans Fighting Fund for their dedication and commitment on this matter.
“It is fair to say that there was, at one stage, a very unhealthy desire to press on with an investigation into this matter when cool heads and clear thinking was required. Instead, there was a frenzied atmosphere around Rangers caused by the club’s insolvency situation. This issue could have and should have been dealt with by the board of the SPL rather than embarking on an unnecessarily grand and expensive process.
“At the end of the day I am left with the impression that this has been much ado about very little and a great waste of energy, time and money.”
Green expressed the hope that the Commission findings would draw a line under the turmoil which has engulfed Rangers since their rapid descent into administration, liquidation and Third Division football. The outspoken Yorkshireman insists better times now lie ahead for the Ibrox club. “I think I speak for all Rangers fans in saying now, enough is enough,” he added. “It is time everyone moved on. There are considerable challenges ahead for this club and Scottish football.
“That is where all efforts and energy should now be focused. We, as a club, will work with all parties who have the good of the game at heart. We are looking forward and I urge all Rangers fans to do likewise. We are rebuilding this club and are making great strides. The dark days are over and it is time now for all to embrace our ambition for a brighter future.”
Murray, in a later statement, questioned both the value and validity of the SPL Commission.
“The problems arising at Rangers brought no credit to Scottish football and have been a tragedy for the club and its fans,” said Murray. “They cannot be condoned. Similarly, however, efforts to bayonet the wounded are equally unjustified and of no benefit to the club or Scottish football. Despite knowledge of the existence of EBT arrangements for ten years, the SPL has never explained why this was only raised as an issue last year.
“The imposition of an irrecoverable fine on an entity which is now in liquidation is futile and only prejudices the ability of existing creditors to recover any money.
“It is saddening that so much time, effort and money has been expended in pursuing a retrospective witchhunt against an entity in crisis, as opposed to seeking to promote and further Scottish football for the benefit of the game and country as a whole.”
Murray described the decision of the commission not to strip Rangers of titles and recognise no competitive advantage was gained as “satisfying”.
But he claimed the commission had “ignored well-established legal authority” over the definition of a payment.
The former Rangers majority shareholder, whose successor Craig Whyte’s failure to pay PAYE and VAT sparked the administration process, added: “The EBT scheme did not provide for payments from the club to the players. Instead, the players received loans from independent trustees and the decisions to make those loans were made by those trustees alone. The decision of the First Tier Tax Tribunal supported this.
“It is entirely erroneous and without foundation to state that a contribution to a trust and subsequent loan from independent trustees of that trust to a player is the same as Rangers making a payment to a player.”
Rangers manager Ally McCoist, who has become a focal point of the club’s rebuilding process, added his sense of contentment that previous titles won by the club were not undermined by Lord Nimmo Smith’s report.
“I am delighted in many ways by the decision today,” said McCoist. “As a former player, I know how hard it is to achieve success on the pitch and the suggestion that somehow Rangers sought to gain unfair advantage was deeply insulting to me and others who had worn the Rangers jersey with immense pride.
“I found the whole approach to this matter by the SPL utterly bizarre and misguided.
“Our fans will take great heart from this and hopefully now – after all that we have been through – there will be a widespread realisation that it is time to move on. Rangers have a huge amount to offer Scottish football and we have always been more than willing to do our bit for the good of the game.”
The SPL board will consider whether to take any further course of action at their next board meeting. They issued a brief statement yesterday.
“The SPL Board appointed the Independent Commission to consider all aspects of the above matter and at no point provided any direction to the Commission on any aspect of the case,” it read.
“The SPL Board notes that the Commission has upheld a number of complaints against Rangers OldCo and that Rangers OldCo has been found to have breached SPL and Scottish FA Rules over an 11-year period in relation to the non-disclosure of financial arrangements involving many of its Players.
“The SPL Board are assured by the integrity of the process followed and thank The Rt Hon Lord Nimmo Smith and his colleagues, Nicholas Stewart QC and Charles Flint QC, for their time and effort.
“The Board wishes to give the detail of the decision further consideration at its next meeting.”