Craig Whyte has never met Prince Albert. That’s one of many unnecessary things I learned from the latest “BBC Investigates” documentary about a decade of murky dealings at Rangers.
The recent SFA disciplinary tribunal report detailed shocking lapses in corporate governance inside Rangers FC plc, but Mark Daly’s new program focused on the cast of shysters surrounding the club. The pompous delivery and unnecessary diversions – like Craig Whyte’s claim to have the Monaco regent backing his bid – got in the way of the real dirt: actual evidence of widespread misuse of EBTs, of Murray taking money out of the club by the back door, and of Duff & Phelps’ dubious dealings with Whyte pre-takeover.
The BBC seems to have done a thorough job of researching the Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs) used to pay players, employees, and board members of Rangers (and Murray International). This is interesting information, but not breaking news: EBTs are the subject of the “Big Tax Case” that’s been outstanding for years. It hasn’t yet been proven that these EBTs broke the law, and Rangers (along with other UK firms) stopped using these trusts in 2010.
More interesting was the list of players who had illegal “side letters” documenting payments to be made via the trust, or who had been told that part of their compensation would be from a trust. If this is the same evidence presented to the tax tribunal, then Rangers are toast – it’s damning, and it’s now on the BBC website for all to judge. (Side note: considering some of the players and sums involved – Kevin Muscat £1m, Egil Ostenstad £370k – the real crime is not how they were paid, but how much.)
Daly also spent time interviewing an accountant who explained that Murray’s empire was built on debt. Well, duh. Everyone knew that. He borrowed money to run his metals business, he borrowed money to buy Rangers, he borrowed money to fund the rights issue to reduce Rangers debts in the mid-2000s. If you can get away with it, why not? I’m sure the Bank of Scotland were happy taking his interest payments all those years.
Truly disturbing, however, is the allegation that Sir David Murray himself was paid through a Rangers EBT. Murray has always denied receiving any compensation from Rangers, but the Beeb showed this was true only by way of a technicality: the trust is not Rangers. But £6m of the £40m+ that Rangers paid into the trusts was paid back to Murray. A dividend by the back door? A tax dodge? Either way, he has some explaining to do: because if he only ever borrowed money to invest, and took money out of the club for himself on the sly, then he’s just a thieving crook like the rest of them.
The show also shone a spotlight on Duff & Phelps. Now, D&P have downplayed their pre-takeover work with Craig the charlatan, but Daly said that the esteemed law firm knew of the Ticketus deal prior to the takeover and implied that they therefore knew he was using the club’s own money to buy Rangers. An hour after the screening, D&P issued a statement denying the implication, saying their understanding was that the Ticketus agreement was for working capital only (a common arrangement) and they’d be consulting their lawyers. An empty threat, like Craig Whyte’s after the last BBC investigation? Time will tell.
That was the genuine news in the show. Presenter Mark Daly again pushed himself front and centre, although he did allow some screen time for a Rangers fan called Sammy, interviewed at home in a room full of bluenose merchandise. Sammy reminded me of Robbie Coltrane’s “Mason Boyne” character from a 1980’s Scottish sketch show: a stereotypical “man of ra peepil”, although Sammy, to his credit, didn’t have a picture of the Queen on display.
Sammy was a real Rangers fan, but for the purpose of the show he was an actor, put on camera to play a part. The unintended clown of the show was Graham Spiers, unemployed journalist, cranked out to opine on Murray’s claim to have been “duped” by Craig Whyte.
“I’ve been critical of David Murray for years, but I believe him,” said Spiers of Murray’s incredible defence. “I take what he says at face value.”
That might just be why you’re unemployed, Graham.