Football: Expert claims any Big Tax Case appeal could be delayed until 2017
A FINAL decision on the so-called Rangers “big tax case” may not happen until 2017, and Scotland’s footballing authorities are unlikely to deal with the ramifications of the matter until after that.
Sir David Murray’s companies are yet to decide whether or not to appeal against the decision by three law lords on Wednesday that his firms, including Rangers, had avoided paying more than £47 million in tax by using Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs) against the rules of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
The decision in the Court of Session overturned two earlier court findings that the EBTs were perfectly legal.
Facing the possibility of having to return £1.3 billion in EBTs recovered from 1,500 tax avoiders, HMRC appealed to the highest court in Scotland and won its case, meaning that the liquidated oldco Rangers now owes HMRC some £75 million – whether that will ever be recovered is highly debatable.
The only appeal left is to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and a legal source told The National yesterday that unless the court deemed the matter to be an emergency, it could be up to 18 months before the appeal is heard.
“Only the most urgent of cases go to the front of the queue,” said the source, “and at the moment the Supreme Court is dealing with appeals from 2013.
“Other appellants would be more than a bit miffed if their cases were held back to allow an appeal against what appears to be a rock-solid ruling by the senior Scottish judges.”
If the Supreme Court rules in HMRC’s favour, there will be calls for Scotland’s footballing authorities to review the club’s use of EBTs to gain a sporting advantage – fans of other clubs have already called for Rangers to be stripped of the titles and trophies they won in the period 2001 to 2010 when the tax avoidance scheme was in operation.
There is now legal opinion that Rangers did indeed gain an advantage. In the judgment, Lord Drummond Young wrote: “So far as the footballers are concerned, at least, it seems to us that if bonuses had not been paid they might well have taken their services elsewhere.”
Under the control of Craig Whyte, oldco Rangers went into administration and liquidation in 2012, after which Charles Green and his associates set up a new ownership, which in turn has passed to current chairman David King and his associates.
The current regime at Ibrox Park has moved quickly to distance itself from the fallout of the tax case, but newco Rangers still has to deal with one issue directly related to the oldco – the £250,000 fine imposed by the former Scottish Premier League for the use of the EBTs.
Lord Nimmo Smith ruled that the payments breached SPL rules, and the successor body, the Scottish Professional League, is seeking the fine plus £150,000 in costs from the current owners, who deny liability for the sum.
A Scottish Football Association tribunal has heard evidence from both sides and a decision will be given in due course – if the verdict goes against Rangers, the money will be deducted from television and league monies due to the club.
Despite attempts to stifle questions on the issue at the club’s press conference yesterday, current manager Mark Warburton addressed the issue of whether all the furore about oldco Rangers would affect the present squad.
It would “absolutely not,” affect the team, he said.
“The players are focused on what they do. Like the staff, it’s beyond their pay grade and we just focus on what we do out on the grass,” he added.
Asked about the calls for trophies to be stripped from Rangers, Warburton replied: “I arrived here five months ago, why would I possibly have an opinion on that? My full focus is on this football department and taking it forward. So to talk about history is irrelevant in the nicest possible way.
“I only get paid to come in here and run the football department.
“Anything else is not my business. I’m not qualified. I’m not clever enough, that’s for sure, so my only focus will be the football department.
“Coming from the outside, I’m aware the last three or four years have been problematic but we are moving forward now. But the football department is in good shape and that’s my job.”