The Supreme Court ruled yesterday in favour of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in the so-called Rangers ‘big tax case’.
The prolonged dispute over a total of almost £50 million in payments made to Rangers players and staff between 2001 and 2009, using Employee Benefit Trusts, reached a binding conclusion as an appeal by the oldco club’s liquidators was dismissed. The outcome quickly stimulated calls for the club to be stripped of honours won during that period.
As social media went into overdrive, with fans of various clubs reiterating their long-expressed view that the tax avoidance scheme had given the Govan side an unfair advantage, Celtic called for the game’s governing bodies to revisit the matter.
But, while the SPFL say they will take time to “consider any implications” of the court ruling, the Scottish FA issued a statement saying they had already sought legal counsel and saw no reason to take any further disciplinary action.
In 2013, a Scottish Premier League investigation headed by Lord Nimmo Smith found Rangers guilty of breaching rules by deliberately failing to disclose “side letters” detailing many of the payments in advance. The club was fined £250,000 but the panel resisted calls to strip the club of league and cup honours, claiming they had not gained “any unfair competitive advantage from the contraventions of the SPL rules”.
But those who remain convinced that the Ibrox club’s actions were tantamount to financial doping point to the timing of the commission’s judgment, which was made when the initial tribunals had found in favour of the former majority shareholder of the now liquidated club, the Murray Group. The reversal of those early decisions, in 2015, which was a ruling that was irrefutably upheld by the Supreme Court yesterday, has prompted calls for the game’s rulers to revisit the sanctions.
Arguments that Rangers won trophies with players they would not have been able to afford if they had been paying the correct tax have now been strengthened by the final verdict.
Celtic’s statement yesterday said: “In 2013, we expressed surprise – shared by many observers and supporters of the game – over the findings of the SPL commission that no competitive or sporting advantage had resulted. Today’s decision only re-affirms that view.
“We are sure now that the footballing authorities in Scotland will wish to review this matter. Celtic awaits the outcome of their review.”
But moving to “clarify the implications of this final legal decision from a football regulatory perspective”, the SFA said there was little point in pursuing the matter.
“In light of the Inner House of the Court of Session decision, the Board of the Scottish FA sought external senior counsel opinion to ensure a robust and independent consideration of all implications of today’s judgment.
“The clear opinion of senior counsel is that there is a very limited chance of the Scottish FA succeeding in relation to any complaint regarding this matter and that, even if successful, any sanctions available to a judicial panel would also be limited in their scope.
“Accordingly, having had time to consider the opinion from senior counsel, and having examined the judgment of the UK Supreme Court, the Board has determined that no further disciplinary action should be taken by the Scottish FA at this time.”