Tom English: Green in the pink for now
FOR the last two weekends, my Saturday assignment brought me to Ibrox. Not to watch the football but to report on the mayhem. I know that last weekend they lost to Peterhead – such an embarrassment is not easily forgotten – but, for the life of me, I could not, off the top of my head, tell you who they were playing the previous Saturday or what the score was or who scored. I know that Rangers won, but that’s the extent of it. And in a way that is the madness in microcosm.
I was in the press gantry and the action was unfolding in front of me but, instead of watching the two games, I was researching accountancy firms and law firms, I was trying to discover who Craig Mather is and what he has done in life before Rangers, I was attempting to find out what Imran Ahmad’s current situation is at the club and what was said at a meeting of the board of directors at Murray Park in week one and what decisions were made during a directors’ conference call in week two. The games came and went. Such is the surreal nature of this story that I still haven’t seen any of the goals in either of these two matches. When some of the goals were scored I was on the street outside Ibrox trying to get a signal on my mobile so I could phone a contact at the club. As the Ibrox roar went up to greet a breakthrough strike in week one, I was leaning against a railings opposite Ibrox talking to a contact. The lunacy of the situation wasn’t lost on me.
And the lunacy and uncertainty continues. Charles Green, who may or not have sold Rangers down the swanny when doing business with the disgraced Craig Whyte, is now perhaps, or perhaps not, about to sell his shareholding in the club to the Easdale brothers, one of whom did – and here there is no debate – do time in 1997 for VAT fraud, bringing the total number of fraudsters or accused fraudsters involved in the recent story of Rangers to three following on from Allan Stewart’s brief dalliance last summer and Dave King’s ongoing interest, which resurfaced yesterday. King has been convicted of nothing but is still facing multiple criminal charges in South Africa.
King has recently settled an epic battle with the South African Revenue Services over eye-watering amounts of unpaid tax but is still subject to hundreds of criminal charges in a case that may or may not come to court and could, or could not, see King tucked away in prison for a stretch.
You get all that? All clear? But hold on, for there is more. Yesterday, Mather was put in charge of the day-to-day running of Rangers, the same Mather who has spent the last seven months working under the title of Rangers’ sporting director, yet it appears that very few people know what sport Mather has actually been directing. He was appointed to run the show for the foreseeable future amid a split on the Rangers board and against a backdrop of a forensic investigator and a London law firm being appointed to try to get to the bottom of Sevco 5088 and Sevco Scotland and Ibrox and Murray Park and the great puzzler of our times – who owns what, who should sue who and where and when the hell this is all going to end.
Whyte is making a movie, supposedly. He should make Green the star because he seems to be the Mr Pink in this Mexican stand-off. If you have seen Reservoir Dogs you will get the reference. If you haven’t then in the final battle for the booty in that movie everybody mows each other down apart from Pink who slips away with the diamonds. Green is the new Pink.
Of course, movie geeks have always speculated about Pink’s fate once he walked out the warehouse door leaving behind him a load of dead guys. Did Pink really get away with it or were the cops waiting for him outside? Will Green get away with it or is the Serious Fraud Office ready to pounce?
For now, pending commission and investigations and myriad other potential powderkeg examinations he has ducked away with a handsome pay-off and an estimated £3million in shares which, it is alleged, he is about to offload to the Easdale boys. It turns out that the music Green was waiting to hear upon his exit from Ibrox wasn’t the Champions League anthem but the ker-ching of a millionaire’s cash register.
Short of Hoopy the Huddlehound being declared as the real owner of the assets of Rangers it is surely not possible for this tortured saga to get any more farcical. That’s actually a pretty bold statement and, most probably, a stupid one. Just when you think this thing could not get any more messed up even if you put the most vengeful Rangers-hating Celtic zealot in charge at Ibrox, it twists and turns and something ever more bizarre turns up. The club’s capacity to find trouble is now, to borrow a phrase from the past, off the radar.
King reappeared yesterday and said that, in the business of who really owns the assets of the club, he would “discount Whyte completely”. Maybe he is right, but people have been discounting Whyte ever since he departed Glasgow with a bag over his head for fear that somebody would recognise him and he is still buzzing about the place like some malevolent fly. He destabilised Green with his taped conversations, Green himself providing the final knockout blow with his cringe-making comments about his associate Ahmad and his refusal to apologise for the Alf Garnett routine for fully three days. Whyte has helped to take out Green and has muddied the waters so completely at Ibrox that a commission has to be set up to get to the truth.
So King can discount Whyte all he likes but the fact is that Whyte still has huge relevance to this story until such time as somebody can finally, legally and irrefutably prove that he has no claim on anything bar the title of the most hated man in Rangers history.
It would be understandable if the Rangers support looked towards King and saw him as a potential messiah who could lead them out of the desperate hole they are in. Surely recent history has taught them to be wary of holding anybody up as the Great Redeemer. True, King appears to tick some boxes. He is now rid of the monumental fight with SARS, a case that stretched back more than a dozen years and cost him many assets – including his private jet – before an undisclosed settlement was reached last month. SARS are no longer chasing him for more than £100m in back taxes.
Time was when SARS spoke of King with venom, once accusing him of eroding the culture of tax compliance in South Africa and claiming that he “acted fraudulently, evaded tax and lied about his income and profits generated since 1990”. SARS versus King was the most bitter tax dispute in the history of the country but it is now over.
What is not over is the criminal aspect. The civil case is done but the criminal is not and there are upwards of 322 charges still on the books. King has said that he will defeat the National Prosecuting Authority if, and when, his case goes to court. He’s been saying that for the longest time. Perhaps he is right. The NPA is nobody’s idea of a well-oiled machine when executing cases against its big targets. In fact, it is something of a laughing stock at times. Fact is, though, that the charges remain. And they’re hugely serious. King needs to free himself of this baggage just in the same way that Rangers needs to free itself of the doubt and the suspicion that is ripping them apart.
I’ll be back at Ibrox soon. The chances are that, once again, it won’t be the football that takes me there.