Interview: Craig Whyte, owner of Rangers, who has come out fighting against TV allegations

Rangers owner Craig Whyte. Photo: Bill Murray
Rangers owner Craig Whyte. Photo: Bill Murray
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Tom English talks to Craig Whyte about that BBC documentary, the ongoing tax case at Ibrox and the departure of Rangers legend John Greig

Q. So you watched the BBC documentary on Thursday evening?

A. No, I haven’t actually seen it. I was with my kids so I didn’t particularly want to watch it with them. I’ll get around to it.

You haven’t watched it? So how can you threaten to sue the BBC on the back of it?

Oh, don’t worry, I know what was in it. I know all about the allegations they’re making.

And you think it was a stitch-up job?

It’s outrageous. I actually can’t believe that they went with the allegations they went with. We told them. We sent lawyers letters all week, warning them that these things aren’t true and warning them what would happen if they ran with these allegations. They’ve run with things that are totally, completely and utterly untrue. It just proves the case that they are a biased organisation, biased against Rangers. They’ve done it several times this season. They’re completely biased. They did it to Ally McCoist. Every time they show something on sectarianism it’s Rangers fans. One has to wonder if there’s institutionalised bias in there. It’s outrageous what they’ve done. Absolutely outrageous. To accuse me on national TV of criminality is an outrage. I’m suing and maybe the BBC are going to be paying the (HMRC) tax bill.

Okay, this is raw stuff at the moment. But these things are always sorted out. You threaten to sue, there’s a rapprochement and everything gets resolved. Why is this one any different?

I don’t see any way back for the BBC. No. They’re not going to apologise. As long as I’m here there will be no co-operation between Rangers and the BBC. They won’t get any interviews with players or management. As far as I’m concerned, even if somebody speaks to them off the record they’ll never work for Rangers again.

How on earth can you enforce that?

The BBC are completely, totally and utterly out. They’re not going to get away with it what they did. They’ll suffer the consequences.

Let’s look at this closely. They said you were disqualified as a company director. Is that true?

I’m not comfortable getting into the specific allegations.

They had a government official – Robert Burns, head of investigations at the Insolvency Service – saying that you could, potentially, have faced a two-year jail sentence for your involvement in a company, Re-tex Plastic Technology while disqualified. Is that true?

I’m not going to comment on specific allegations other than to say on the basis of what I’ve heard the Insolvency Service said last night, I’m looking into the possibility of suing them personally.

Another law-suit?

For what he [Burns] said, he deserves to be sued personally. Because it’s a lie. If he said what I’ve been told he said, it’s a lie. The question to be asked here is if I’m being accused of something then why didn’t they pursue it, why didn’t they do something about it? The reason is because it’s not true.

They then tried to link you with a convicted fraudster, Kevin Sykes. What was your involvement with Sykes?

I’m sure that most people in their past has met somebody – 12 years ago, 15 years ago – and then you move on and you forget about them. To bring it up now, to associate him with me is an outrage. I haven’t seen the guy in 12-13 years. What’s the relevance of that?

This is a respected investigative journalist, though. Mark Daly is a good journalist. Why would he have it in for you? Why would the BBC have it in for you?

There’s no question but that this was a hatchet job. Look at the contributors. Alastair Johnston and Paul Murray, who are no friends of mine. Other guys on companies I invested in who wanted more money and I wouldn’t give it to them. It’s not impartial. It was biased from the start. Typical BBC attitude. They’re arrogant.

Did you hear that your old mate, Johnston, cried no surrender!

Yeah, I heard that. Alastair thinks he’s the fans’ hero. The funny thing is that he tells everybody that he’s never taken a penny out of Rangers, that he’s never wanted anything from the club, that he was put here for the good of the club and that he’s the biggest Rangers supporter and all sorts of shit. I haven’t heard from him since the takeover. But about a week or ten days ago he starts emailing me and says he’s owed 30 grand.

For what?

They were really nice emails to begin with. He was talking about his expenses and his flights to the States and Japan on Rangers business, first class tickets and all the rest of it, and reckoned he was due 30 grand in expenses. There was this series of emails and I was really surprised. So then he puts a deadline of last Friday on it and said if I didn’t pay it he was going to sue. There was an overhanging threat of a law suit if I didn’t pay him.

Another law-suit? How many are we up to now?

I’ve stopped counting. I said I’d look at the detail and get back to him, but I haven’t responded to his last email, which was Wednesday I think. He’s not due the money. These are guys who have never put anything into Rangers and have taken a lot out, even during the depths of the financial crisis at the club. They could have said we’ve done quite nicely out of this, we’ll walk away and wish the club well. People like [Donald] McIntyre outside the court the other day saying he wants the best for Rangers, meanwhile he’s putting a £300,000 arrestment on Rangers and taking us to court, even though he was there throughout all the financial problems. When Rangers made the Uefa Cup final [Martin Bain] got the same bonus as the players, £45,000 a man. Why would the chief executive be on the same bonus as the players? Anybody who wants money from Rangers I’m going to scrutinise it. Every detail, whether it’s deserved or not. If it’s deserved, we’ll settle and if it’s not we’ll fight it to the death.

There is an air of mystery about you, though. Nobody really knows much about you – where you got your money from and how much you have.

Good.

So where did you make your money and how much do you have?

If I asked you how much money you have, you would be within your rights to tell me to f*** off, it’s none of my business. All that matters is that I’m delivering on what I said I would deliver on. Rangers are in a better place now than they have been in the last three or four years. That’s what’s important. As long as I deliver on what I said I would deliver on what difference does it make?

What other businesses do you have, we know nothing of this?

I’ve got more than 20 other businesses in the UK and across various parts of Europe and I’m involved in all sorts of things. I’m a prolific deal-maker, but the only one you get to hear about is Rangers. I’m doing deals constantly. This morning I’m working on a decent size deal with a fairly well-known business but it will never get any attention.

Why not?

Because I don’t want it to.

Again, why not?

Why should I? I’m stubborn.

Give us the names of a few of your companies that you’re really proud of?

No. Good effort but I’m not going to name the companies because that’ll create a level of scrutiny for them and I don’t want to have that. I just want them to get on with business. Look, I can’t complain about it because I put myself in the position. David Murray told me what it would be like. I’m fortunate to be in the position I’m in. You know my thoughts, I’m not a publicity hungry type of guy. This stuff doesn’t sit naturally with me. I’m only doing this now because of that BBC thing.

Okay, let’s talk about the tax bill. You said not that long ago that you we were going to fight it if the outcome went against you, but you said the other night you might not. What are you thinking?

I’m not going to box myself into a corner on this one. What I said to STV was that there has to be some finality sooner rather than later. I don’t see how we can live like this as a business with this thing hanging over us for another year or two years, it’s impossible. If we’re trying to sign long-term deals with sponsors or corporates it makes life more difficult.

Fine. So talk us through what you will do in the worst case scenario. Rangers are hit with a massive debt bill. What happens next?

There’s a solution to it either way. Either we win the case or we don’t win the case and if we don’t win the case I’ll still control the club and so the club will be there forever.

But what happens if the bill is £49m?

Clearly, an insolvency would mean the business would have to go through a formal restructuring.

Insolvency? Restructuring?

It’s hard to say at the moment because there are different ways to restructure a business. People talk about administration as one option and that might well be one of them.

Putting the club into administration is an option?

For sure.

What would that entail? Are we talking here about the club re-forming as New Rangers FC and the tax bill is eliminated. It’s not that simple, right?

It’s not as simple as that but that is one potential outcome. It’s not desirable, not something we want to do and I’m doing everything I can to avoid it.

You wouldn’t think that the club going into administration would be a blight on its proud history?

You can’t erase the club’s history. That stays.

But it would be mortifying?

Other than a regrettable event in our history I don’t think it would be as bad people think it might be. But that’s not what I want. It’s something I’d rather avoid, if at all possible.

Have you regrets about the way you’ve handled the tax case, the secrecy surrounding it that has given way to endless speculation?

Yeah, with hindsight I should have probably said more about this when I first came in but on the other hand we were battling to win the league at the time and I didn’t want to put negative issues out there. As soon as the league was over, I should have come out and said ‘Look, there’s a big job to be done here’. I should have got my message out a bit sooner.

If you were a betting man, where would your money rest? Victory for Rangers or victory for HMRC?

I’m not a tax expert so it’s a difficult one. Our legal advisers say we’re going to win but HMRC’s advisers say they’re going to win. I wouldn’t like to bet on it either way, to be honest.

You seem to be constantly fighting people. The tax man, Bain, McIntyre, the BBC, various solicitors firms, all sorts of people. Levy & McRae took action over an unpaid bill of £35,000. Why is there so much hassle?

Levy & McRae acted for Rangers previously and under Law Society rules they shouldn’t be acting against their client so when they represented Bain we complained about them to the Law Society and to be fair we were a bit bloody-minded when we said we weren’t going to pay them because they started acting for Bain against us. That was the reason we didn’t pay them. They took us to court and with hindsight it would have been easier just to pay them.

I think people use the profile of Rangers to try and take us to court and think we’ll settle because we don’t want the bad publicity. For me, I’m bloody-minded. Why should I fall for that one? I’m getting more and more thick-skinned by the day.

Is this the most hassle you’ve had in business?

For sure. But this is what I signed up to. Nothing on this scale has happened to me before and nothing on this scale will happen to me again. Even if you owned one of the clubs in London I don’t think you’d get this level of intensity in the national press. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. No football club owner in Scotland has had the hassle that I’ve had.

Like you say, you buy Rangers and you accept the obsession that comes with it, right?

Right.

So what about all your cash flow, then?

The arrestments by Bain and McIntyre don’t help, but we’re fine.

No issues about paying your bills?

No.

What about your transfer dealings? Lots of players signed but not a high net spend, not the £5m you said it would be?

It’s a lot higher than people think. Our net spend is about £5.7m or thereabouts. That includes things that people forget about like agents fees and so on.

You said you’d invest £5m a season for five seasons, roughly. That £5m was including agents fees and other costs?

If you’re going to sign players then you have to include the cost associated with it, legal costs, agents costs, all sorts of costs. Of course you have to include the costs.

People will always ask how could you think this is a sound venture?

You can have a proper business model in football but it’s not easy, I’ll give you that. But I also think that Rangers are a huge club with a huge support base worldwide and with tremendous commercial potential that is untapped. Our costs are too high and will have to be reduced. Long-term, we can make this a successful business.

The tax case could be Armageddon, though?

I don’t think it’s Armageddon. Everybody knows that, in reality, Rangers are always going to be around. You might get idiots on bulletin boards saying that Rangers are going to disappear but that’s not going to happen.

Finally, John Greig walked away during the week. He was a player you admired greatly. An icon. Was his departure a reflection on the way you run the club?

It was unfortunate. John could have stepped down a different way. We could have shaken hands and wished him all the best, which I still want to do. Unfortunately, I heard it from a newspaper rather than from John. I thought we always got on well. He’s a legend and will always be welcome.