Rangers chairman Dave King has accused Celtic of trying to achieve victories off the pitch which their players could not manage on it as he claimed the oldco Ibrox club received no benefit from their discredited tax avoidance scheme.
King, a former oldco Rangers director, argued the club would still have signed all the players that received Employee Benefit Trust payments even if they had not used the scheme for much of the first decade of this century.
The claim was in direct contradiction to former chairman Sir David Murray’s recent assertion in court that EBTs “gave us an opportunity to get players that we perhaps would not be able to afford”.
Calls for Rangers to be stripped of titles won during the EBT years have intensified after five Supreme Court judges unanimously ruled that Rangers should have paid tax on about £50 million in payments made to dozens of players and other staff.
Celtic quickly stated that they expected the Scottish football authorities to review the case - a 2013 commission appointed by the Scottish Premier League and led by judge Lord Nimmo Smith ruled that Rangers received “no unfair competitive advantage” after failing to disclose “side letters” detailing the contentious payments, in breach of SPL rules. Sporting sanctions were ruled out but Rangers were fined £250,000 for the disclosure breaches.
In a lengthy statement on the Rangers website, King said: “The Celtic board issued a statement agitating for a re-opening and reversal of the decisions previously made when, in fact, nothing has changed.
“It is disappointing that they have attempted to influence the footballing authorities to alter its historic football honours by calling on administrators and lawyers to achieve off the pitch what its teams failed to do on the pitch.
“As an investor and board member during the period of the so-called benefit I can categorically assure all supporters that the club received no benefit whatsoever. The opposite is true as the effect on the club was wholly negative.”
King argued the Murray Group, the former majority shareholder, had been the “real beneficiary”, claiming the tax scheme merely reduced the amount of money it put into the club to fund transfers.
The South Africa-based businessman, who was a director of oldco Rangers from 2000 until it was consigned to liquidation in 2012, added: “Every single player that was signed during that period would have been signed whether the Murray Group tax scheme was in place or not.
“The benefit went exclusively to David Murray and the Murray Group. Whether the scheme was in place or not, or whether it survived tax scrutiny or not, made no difference whatsoever to the playing squad of the club during that period and hence had no impact on the performance on the pitch. We won all of our titles fair and square.”
Former Ibrox chairman Murray is aware of the statement, but has not made any response.
King’s stance has altered since June 2012, when he apologised for the EBT affair. Quoted in the Daily Mail, he said: “I follow the logic of the argument that if we lose the tax case then we probably gained some competitive advantage.”
The league stated on Wednesday it would take time to examine the Supreme Court judgement and “consider any implications” but the Scottish Football Association quickly ruled out any action, citing legal advice.
The Dundee United supporters’ society, however, has added its voice to calls for Rangers to be stripped of trophies.
The Arab Trust, which is the third largest shareholder of the club and has an associate director, Stuart Campbell, on the board, argued that EBTs gave Rangers “an unfair advantage in the recruitment of players they would otherwise not been able to afford while also reducing their tax liability in respect of these employees.
“It is therefore clear that Rangers FC cheated not only Scottish football in how it won 14 trophies during this period but also Scottish taxpayers by its use of EBTs,” it said.
The statement added: “Via our associate director we will be asking Dundee United FC to ensure that supporters’ concerns around the implications of this ruling are investigated fully by both the SFA and SPFL (Scottish Professional Football League).
“As the governing bodies of our national competitions both these organisations have legal and moral responsibilities to ensure that not only the letter of their rules and regulations are adhered to but also the spirit of them.
“Without this the normal football supporter can have little confidence in how our game is run.”