FOR some, it is baggage which raises serious question marks over his suitability to take control of Rangers. In Dave King’s view, it proves he is exactly what the forlorn Ibrox club need.
We are talking about his notorious and lengthy battle with South African Revenue Services, which finally ended in 2013 when he accepted 41 charges of breaking tax laws which carried a potential prison sentence of 82 years. King, branded a “mendacious witness” by one judge during the saga, stumped up a settlement of £44 million as a deal was reached with the authorities.
While it has since emerged that SARS used illegal means during their pursuit of King and several others, the blot on the reputation of the wealthy businessman remains and it leaves him facing an examination of his ‘fit and proper’ credentials from the SFA as he seeks a return to the Ibrox boardroom.
But he insists it is also indicative of the defiant determination he brings to his quest to overthrow the current Rangers regime and reverse the culture of decline and chaos which has reigned at the club for the best part of four years. “One of the reasons I think I am fit and proper is what happened to me in South Africa for 11 years with the case,” said King.
“I showed resilience, I was willing to put money in, I was tenacious. That is what Rangers need right now. Some of the things I demonstrated in my fight in South Africa is what the club needs. I will hang around. I fought there for 11 years and I won. That is important, if you look at what happened, I won in the end and came out on top against the State. I have tried to show the same resilience with the Rangers situation. It is not just a sound bite, it is not a Maggie Thatcher ‘this woman is not for turning’ type of thing. I am saying ‘I am here’. I expect to win. If I don’t, I will be back.
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“I was engaged in litigation for 11 years and it’s a difficult and harrowing process. We spent £50 million. If you can imagine how intense that litigation was for 11 years, it was a bruising thing. There are casualties on both sides. I had a number of situations where judges disagreed with my version and gave rulings very strongly against me and didn’t believe me at all and SARS did the same. Sometimes it would be reversed in a higher court - one here went to the House of Lords, where they appealed my version and I won.
“I won some and I lost some. Sometimes the state was criticised. The state was criticised by the UK courts for the way they managed the litigation. If you trawl the million pages on Google I could pick up 50 quotes where SARS were hugely criticised and you can do the same against me.
“You are left with what really happened at the end of the day, which is what the final settlement was. What is the unalterable, irreversible position of the court? It was settled in my favour with no fraud charges.”
If his battle with SARS was the dominant feature of his life for those 11 years, Rangers have never been far from King’s mind. He initially remained on the old board after Sir David Murray fatefully sold the club to Craig Whyte for £1 and since then has been persistent in his attempts to secure boardroom control during the bleakest period of Rangers’ existence. In time, we will look back on this period as part of the club’s history which rallied the fans,” he said. “It is something we must recognise. I know there are those who think the portraits of some of the chairmen inside Ibrox, especially Craig Whyte, should be removed, turned around or even used as a dartboard.
“But it’s part of Rangers’ history now and you don’t edit your history. It’s part of Rangers now but we will come through it stronger. I now see a collective, like-mindedness from the Rangers fans seeking change that I’ve never seen before. The one thing the current board have done is bring them together in a way nobody else could have done.
“So there is a responsibility for me there, of course there is, but there is also a determination. I might be a dominant figure for a while by putting money in, but we would like to get to a point where Rangers have a far more balanced shareholding profile. With all respect to David Murray, we don’t want to see someone being a majority of one on a board of seven ever again.”
If King’s utter certainty that he will prevail at a general meeting is vindicated, the removal of the current board and the appointment of himself, Paul Murray and John Gilligan as directors will simply be the start of a daunting process he hopes will restore Rangers’ health both on and off the pitch.
“It will be very difficult for us to persuade institutional investors that Rangers is a good investment at this point in time,” admitted King. “I don’t think we could do a Charles Green-type job on them, put it that way.
“It will be very difficult for Rangers over the next three to five years to stabilise the affairs of the club, build up the squad and make a profit. We need a consortium of some of the wealthier supporters like myself who are willing to put money into the club. Robert Sarver, the American financier, called me after his proposal was rejected and he was quite disappointed that he had been blocked. It has been confirmed since that if there a regime change he is willing to come back in and have a meaningful discussion with the new board about putting money into the club. Certainly, he is the kind of person that we would talk to in time.
“For us to build up the wage structure over time to compete with Celtic while they are still enjoying European income, we are going to have subsidise that. That is going to have to come from people like myself who are willing to put money into the club and understand that, at best, it is very much a long-term play. I have done it before and already lost £20 million.
“When I came to Glasgow in November, my initial thinking was the £16 million that we proposed as investment would be enough to stabilise and get back to an even footing. Since then, though, I have heard that there are other areas that require investment. I have heard that the maintenance at Ibrox is virtually non-existent, that the scouting is non-existent. So I would imagine that £16 million figure, it will be north of that. Whether the stadium requires millions, I don’t know. If I was to say a figure now, I would say £25 million.
“That is to normalise the club. To stabilise, it would be less. I am talking about a figure where I think Rangers would be competitive with Celtic again, maybe not in Europe but at that level with Celtic. I am giving minimums to give a Rangers that I would recognise in Scottish terms. Frankly, having watched the League Cup semi-final at the weekend, I didn’t recognise that as a Rangers team.
“The single most important thing for the business plan is to reconnect with the fans and get bums on seats again. If it turns out Rangers are in the Championship again next season, that will be disappointing and after watching the game on Sunday I’d say there’s less than a 50 per cent chance of us being in the Premiership next season.
“But where we are playing football next season is not the single most important material factor in this. The club has got to have a board the fans can trust. If we can get that, that is the game-changer.”