Tax position ruled as legal
25 November ~ Rangers fans feel like King Pyrrhus after his infamous victory over the Romans. Tuesday's ruling against HM Revenue and Customs by the First Tier Tax Tribunal found the controversial Employee Benefit Trust system used to pay Ibrox employees between 2001 and 2010 was in fact legal. The key factor in Rangers' financial collapse has been declared bogus. Some Bluenoses have been posting and phoning their "delight" with the verdict. One can only assume the barrage of contempt coming their way since February's slip into administration has left them living only to disprove the accusations of "financial doping".
A commission will still investigate whether Rangers breached SPL rules during the EBT period but the stripping of past titles is now unlikely. This may bring some vindication but absolutely no pleasure. It’s only shared memories that will remain inviolate. The Rangers Football Club plc has been found not liable for most of a £47.65 million tax bill. But that same plc is in the process of being liquidated, its assets transferred to the new company which restarted Rangers' life in the Scottish Third Division.
HMRC is considering an appeal and some Rangers fans may actually hope the taxman is eventually proved right. Losing the club has been horrendous – losing it on the basis of a debt that never was is downright unbearable. Craig Whyte, who bought Rangers from Sir David Murray in 2011, drove Rangers into administration through non-payment of PAYE. However, the cloud of financial fragility which accommodated Whyte’s asset-stripping came from a projected ruling in favour of HMRC in this epic dispute. Murray always claimed the EBTs, which he introduced, were legal. He’s now urging that the anonymous bloggers and HMRC sources who leaked misinformation about the case are found and punished.
Non-Rangers fans are quick to point out that Rangers were actually found liable for a small amount of tax and the ruling was a majority rather than unanimous decision by the three-judge tribunal. The 145-page document detailing the decision is available on the internet. Its impenetrable legalese has been reinterpreted by laptop Celtic fans as proving Rangers guilty of crimes against humanity.
Furthermore the First Tier Tribunal findings were posited on Rangers making loans rather than paid earnings to big-name staff. This will not, as first reported, see those loanees – including Sir David himself – billed by the creditors of the liquidated Rangers plc. However, the actual repayment of these "loans" would have saved Rangers.
No Rangers fan doubts tax avoidance is immoral. When we laugh off the notion of former Ibrox stars repaying the EBT loans we tacitly mock Tuesday's ruling. And no reasonable Rangers fan expected or wanted any sympathy for a successful club which operated a sectarian signing policy for half its 140-year history. But Craig Whyte's demolishing of Rangers, an even more immoral clash of football and finance, has also gone unpunished due to evasion and technicalities. Rangers are quits with Scotland’s clubs. HMRC have lost some face and a sum which is loose change to sanctioned tax avoiders like Google and Amazon. Rangers fans lost their club, and an eternally restructuring Scottish football lost all sense of direction, simply because HMRC decided someone big – but not that big – had to be made an example of. Alex Anderson