DAVE King believes the “end game” is in sight in the battle for control of Rangers and insists he is already assured of victory at the general meeting of shareholders which he has called to remove the current board.
The Glasgow-born businessman has also expressed his confidence he will meet both stock exchange and SFA ‘fit and proper’ criteria to become a director of Rangers again, despite having agreed a £44 million settlement with South African Revenue Services in 2013 for 41 charges of contravening tax laws in his adopted homeland.
But King claims that even if the SFA do rule against him taking up a formal role at the Ibrox club, it would not hinder his involvement as he would simply appoint an “alternate” director in his place.
“I’m fit to be a director of a company in South Africa where the Companies Act is no different to the UK,” said King. “The SFA thing will be more interesting. I expect to go through a very robust interrogation by them, which they have every right to do, but I expect to survive it.
“But if they block me, it wouldn’t change anything. It wouldn’t change my shareholding or my passion for the club. I’d just put on an alternate director, quite frankly. This is much bigger than me being on the board at Rangers.”
The bullish tone of King’s first major media conference since calling the GM also saw him declare that Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley’s present level of influence at Rangers, through £10m worth of loans to the club and a prohibitive retail contract, is “not a complication” in his plans for regime change and a revival of fortunes at the crisis-torn club.
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The first step in King’s takeover strategy will be the GM where he is seeking the removal of the current board – David Somers, James Easdale, Derek Llambias and Barry Leach – and the appointment of himself, fellow ex-director Paul Murray and former Tennent Caledonian Breweries managing director John Gilligan to a new board.
Rangers have until tomorrow to formally respond to King’s requisition for a GM which should then take place before the end of February. King has pointed to the departure from the Rangers board in December of investment fund manager Norman Crighton, who held the confidence of institutional shareholders in the club, as the moment the existing directors lost control of the situation.
King has since purchased a 14.57 per cent stake, while the ‘Three Bears’ consortium of Rangers-supporting businessmen Douglas Park, George Taylor and George Letham have secured 19.49 per cent. While Greenock businessmen Sandy and James Easdale control almost 27 per cent of voting rights and Ashley has a stake of 8.92 per cent, King has reached the firm conclusion he will have sufficient backing from the remaining shareholders.
“We will win, we have enough support,” said King. “I am absolutely certain we have more than 50 per cent, even if every single shareholder votes, which is unlikely.
“The key event was the very non-strategic removal by the board, or the powers-that-be behind the board, of Norman Crighton.
“That was the single biggest tactical error the board made, because it was when the institutional investors in the club said, ‘Look, this club is not being run on a proper basis’.
“That allowed the ‘Three Bears’ consortium to acquire shares from Laxey Partners and it was also the basis for me acquiring the shares I have. It became a turning point. If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have called the GM with the same level of confidence.
“It will happen. We are across the line, we will win. But it’s not the last chance if we don’t win. Let’s say I wake up in the morning and find a shareholder with 15 per cent had sold to the Easdales and it ended up being 51 per cent against us at the GM – even if that happened, I’d go out and buy another five per cent in the marketplace and do it again. It’s not the last chance, but I think it is the end game.”
King revealed that Rangers have attempted to head off the GM with a proposal put to him by Paul Shackleton of the club’s stock exchange nominated advisor WH Ireland, seeking recognition that Ashley’s colleagues Llambias and Leach, now chief executive and finance director respectively at Ibrox, were independent directors.
“It was a nonsense suggestion and one that would just have created further impasse,” said King.
“Paul Shackleton called me on Tuesday and made an attempt for a compromise which he thought might be a way forward without calling a GM. But it was far from acceptable.
“It was about the four existing directors remaining, me getting a couple of appointments and a couple of new independent directors. He said that given Llambias and Leach are really independents, the board would be balanced.
“I told him if he wants to save money and not have a GM, he knows what to do.
“Look at the shareholders’ register – you know you are going to lose.
“Therefore the right thing to do is for the current board to make the appointments we are calling for and resign. It would save the club £70,000 or whatever on a meeting which is a foregone conclusion.
“I’d be surprised if they do that, but it would be the responsible thing to do.”
While it appears clear Ashley is intent on tightening his grip on Rangers, King claims to be relaxed about dealing with the Sports Direct billionaire post-GM. “I certainly don’t see Ashley being a complication in this process whatsoever,” said King.
“If he has advanced money to the club, presumably he would like to get it back. He can get it back – we will just re-finance it in friendly hands and he gets his money back.
“Ashley is a commercial guy and one I think I can do business with.
“He’s not got a passion to control Rangers, have a club tie and sit in the boardroom. He’s about Sports Direct and whatever he has done has been in his commercial interests.
“It has got to be in his interests for us to succeed – the fans are disconnected at the moment and he needs them to come back and start buying retail.”