Tom English: Sorry Whyte wash that is full of contradictions
In short, a Whyte wash.
From top to toe, Whyte’s declaration of innocence came in at 1,507 words and in every paragraph, if not in every sentence, there are things that make your hair stand on end, things that are gob-smacking in their audacity, things that directly contradict what he has said before. In the business of the Ticketus affair he has done an about-turn that would make Sebastian Vettel’s head spin, but it’s worth going through this from his opening remarks, when he presents himself as a modern-day philanthropist.
1. “Craig Whyte today promised...that he will give immediate consideration to gifting the majority of his shares to a supporters’ foundation.”
Or to paraphrase: “Dear God, I’ve seen some of the characters baying for my blood and I’m scared witless. I’ll attempt to calm them down with an offer of free shares in the hope they chill out and don’t come after me.” This is a PR trick from the kindergarten school of media manipulation. A soft and risible introduction to a statement that goes on to include some howitzer admissions and mistruths.
Whyte has said on many occasions – and he said it again yesterday – that he lodged £33m of his “own personal wealth” into a Rangers bank account to prove to Sir David Murray that he had the money to take the club forward. Why, then, with a supposed £33m sitting in the bank did he need a bridging loan? Where is the £33m now? A few weeks back I asked Whyte for documentary evidence that he had lodged the £33m in an account. He said he would consider emailing me the proof. He never did.
3. “My corporate advisors came to me with the proposition that it was entirely possible, as well as highly beneficial, to negotiate a deal with Ticketus that would allow us to complete the takeover and maximise working capital for the club’s day-to-day business.”
The great bazooka. After months upon months of denying that the Ticketus money was used to pay off Lloyds Banking Group Whyte now admits that it was. Last summer, Whyte went thermonuclear at the Daily Record for writing this, saying it was lies while briefly threatening to ban their reporters from Ibrox. In the months since then – and particularly in the last number of weeks – he has been asked many times by different media outlets whether the Ticketus money was used to pay off Lloyds. Each time he dismissed the notion as rubbish.
A fortnight ago I put it to him during an interview. Once again he said it was not true. He said he used his own money to pay off Lloyds and that the Ticketus money only came along later. Not true.
4. “I have been a supporter since I was a boy”
A return to the special pleading. ‘I’m one of you, please believe me, I would never hurt the club’. Whyte says the one thing that has shocked him since he took over at Rangers is the level of scrutiny he has come under, but if you had been following this club since boyhood then surely the profile of his position and the media’s obsession with the Old Firm and every spit and fart that goes on within would not have been such a bolt from the blue.
5. “As far back as November 2010, at the start of the takeover plans and long before there was any discussion about approaching Ticketus, Sir David Murray and Lloyds Banking Group were provided with – and were satisfied with – proof of funds amounting to £33 million. It was several months later, when negotiations were still on-going that the proposed Ticketus deal – ‘100 per cent the best deal for Rangers’ was mooted”
We return to the mysterious £33m. Whyte is saying he had £33m of his own money to spend and then, suddenly, along came Ticketus and a scheme that meant he didn’t have to spend a penny of his own money. Actually, that’s not true. Whyte spent a pound on buying the club. A whole pound! Everything else was funded by selling giant tranches of season tickets. Everything. Future revenues were used to pay off the bank. It was reckless. For Whyte to say that it was in Rangers’ best interests is a spectacular misrepresentation of the truth.
6. “I face huge financial losses personally if the restructuring fails or is not allowed to proceed.”
Some proof of this would be nice. Whyte says that he has given personal and corporate guarantees underwritting Ticketus’s investment but the Ticketus investment is not a mortgaging of season tickets, it is a strange purchase. There is no underwriting involved. Whyte sold the tickets and Ticketus bought them for £20m plus VAT. Unless £1 constitutes huge financial losses in Whyte’s world then we fail to see what he is going on about.
7. “I regret not making the arrangements more transparent...In retrospect I should have been completely open about it.”
Whyte is trying to downgrade his behaviour to a mere lack of transparency when it is infinitely more than that. What he should be saying is that ‘I regret telling falseshoods...In retrospect I should have told the truth’.
8. “The accusation that I paid the bank debt without any personal financial commitment is just plain wrong and quite ridiculous.”
Having admitted that Lloyds were paid off by the Ticketus money Whyte is now rowing back and suggesting that, ‘Well, some of my money went towards paying off the bank debt’ without saying precisely how much. A fiver? A tenner? How much?
9. “The truth is that around £4.4m of the £9m demand is, in fact, the ‘wee tax case’, including penalties, and which is in dispute. We offered to pay £2.5 million of the PAYE and VAT up front with the remainder at £500,000 a month, but HMRC flatly rejected that”
For a man who is supposedly sitting on £33m of his “own personal wealth” why is Whyte trying to pay off the tax man in such a way? Why doesn’t he just pay the ‘wee tax bill’ like he said he would pay it at the outset? Why try and negotiate a never-never deal if you have £33m sitting in a bank account. Unless you don’t have £33m sitting in a bank account.
10. “HMRC...were simply determined to make an example of Rangers.”
We now know that HMRC are keen – some might say overly keen – to co-operate with Rangers, saying last weekend that they have no intention of closing the club down as has been feared by an element of the Ibrox support. HMRC want to work with the administrators to bring about a decent resolution to all of this.
They are, however, determined to make an example of Whyte. The feud between HMRC and Whyte has become deeply personal. More than once, Whyte has interpreted criticial media reporting of his own business chicanery as an assault on Rangers itself when, in fact, it has been anything but. This looks like more of the same. It seems like an attempted rally cry to the fans. ‘Everybody’s out to get us...’
11. “In these circumstances (HMRC wanting to make an example of Rangers) it would have been far too risky to pump further funds into the club while the result of the EBT tax case remain unresolved.”
This is mind-altering garbage. There is no justification for not paying your tax. None. It doesn’t matter about the EBT case. Whyte had to pay his tax, end of story. Far too risky? It’s a legal obligation. It’s not a question of risk. It’s not optional. ‘Pump further funds’. What an expression from a man who has seemingly pumped virtually no funds into the club. Rangers are in profit in the transfer market since Whyte took over so what is all this about ‘further funds’? He has not made good on his commitment to spend £5m net on transfers every season. He promised to do it for five straight seasons and couldn’t even do it for one. Whyte is suggesting that at some point he came to a decision to stop throwing cash at the club. It never happened in the first place.
12. “On top of that (HMRC freezing some of the bank accounts) we had other funds frozen because of legal claims by certain former members of the board all of which contributed to why we fell into arrears on our monthly PAYE liabilities.”
Once more we return to the £33m of his “own personal wealth” lodged in a bank account and clearly not used to pay off Lloyds. You have £33m in the bank and yet you can’t pay your PAYE. Does the inconsistency of this argument not smack Whyte between the eyes? Again, where is the £33m that Whyte claims was his own cash and not the spoils of the Ticketus deal? And why didn’t he use it to pay the wolf from his door?
13. “Negotiations with HMRC about trying to reach a compromise on the EBT case continued right up until the very last minute (before administration), but HMRC would have none of it – if they had, they would have released further funds and we could have avoided administration.”
In other words, ‘Please believe me, fellow Bears. HMRC are the real baddies here. They froze our money and shafted us. They forced us into administration because they hate us and want to kill us.’
14. “I am open to all serious offers of outside investment. I am currently in active discussion with a number of potential bidders and investors.”
Where did Whyte find these potential investors? At the roulette tables in Las Vegas? Why would anybody invest in Rangers as it is currently constituted? Unless you were a gambler with a death wish you would stay well away unless the dust clears.
15. “I will not continue as Rangers chairman post-restructuring ... I don’t do walking away.”
He plans to walk away, but he doesn’t do walking away. An appropriate end to a statement that will merely add to the fury of the fans and the confusion about what Whyte was actually trying to do when he took over Rangers. Just after Whyte’s comments came through on email, the administrators issued their own update from the frontline of the crisis. In five paragraphs – as opposed to Whyte’s 26 - they said it all. “Following information received, it is now apparent that the proceeds from the Ticketus arrangements amounted initially to a sum in the region of £20 million plus VAT. Subsequently, £18 million was tranferred to the Lloyds Banking Group.”
Words that poured more petrol on the bonfire of Craig Whyte’s credibility.