RANGERS will discover at high noon today whether they have been found guilty of breaching Scottish Premier League rules on payments to players between November 2000 and May 2011.
The three-man Independent Commission chaired by Lord Nimmo Smith will publish its written decision at midday, a month after they sat at Hampden for three days to consider the evidence presented to them.
Rangers are alleged to have failed to properly declare all payments made to players signed and registered with the SPL during the period in question. The Ibrox club, then owned by Sir David Murray’s group of companies, operated an Employee Benefit Trust scheme in which loans formed part of payments to players.
Murray International Holdings won a protracted tribunal against claims of unpaid tax from the EBT scheme, although HMRC have since launched an appeal against that ruling.
Last June, the SPL’s board of directors decided that Rangers had a “prima facie” case to answer in relation to alleged breaches of the league’s rules. If they are found guilty, a range of 18 possible sanctions which could be imposed include the stripping of SPL titles during the period in question. Rangers were champions five times while the EBT scheme was in operation – in 2003, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
In a brief statement released yesterday afternoon, the SPL confirmed: “The written decision of the Commission appointed in relation to RFC 2012 Plc (now in liquidation) and Rangers FC and chaired by Lord Nimmo Smith will be published on Thursday 28 February at 12.00 noon.”
Nimmo Smith, who also chaired the Scottish FA’s investigation into Craig Whyte’s ruinous ownership of Rangers which saw the club fined £160,000 and an 18-month signing embargo imposed, was assisted on the SPL Commission by eminent QCs Charles Flint and Nicholas Stewart. Both have experience in the sporting sphere of the law. Flint is a member of Uefa’s Financial Control Body Adjudicatory Chamber and a vice-president of the National Anti-Doping Panel. Stewart is an appeal board chairman and member of the English FA’s Judicial Panel. Charles Green, the chief executive of Rangers who purchased the club’s business and assets last May as it headed towards liquidation, had questioned the independence of the Commission and claimed it would be operating to an SPL agenda aimed at stripping titles. That prompted Lord Nimmo Smith into the unusual step of issuing a statement in September defending the impartiality of his Commission.
Former Rangers chairman and owner Murray, meanwhile, had released his own statement denying accusations that the EBT scheme had amounted to an unfair manipulation of football rules.
“During my stewardship of Rangers, no rules were breached or circumvented and I reject and resent any suggestion that anything was done which amounted to cheating,” said Murray.
“All accounts were fully audited and made available to all entitled parties. All football rules were complied with. All enquiries from entitled parties or organisations were answered.”
The key SPL rules which Rangers are alleged to have breached relate to payments not declared in a contract of employment with a player and to the full disclosure of those contracts when registering the players with the SPL.
Rule D9.3 states: “No player may receive any payment of any description from or on behalf of a club in respect of that player’s participation in Association Football or in an activity connected with Association Football, other than in reimbursement of expenses actually incurred or to be actually incurred in playing or training for that Club, unless such payment is made in accordance with a Contract of Service between that Club and the Player concerned.” Rule D1.13 states “A club must, as a condition of registration and for a Player to be eligible to play in official matches, deliver the executed originals of all contracts of service and amendments and/or extensions to contracts of service and all other agreements providing for payment, other than for reimbursement of expenses actually incurred, between that club and player, to the secretary, within 14 days of such contract of service or other agreement being entered into, amended and/or, as the case may be, extended.”