You will have to look hard in the mainstream media to the commission’s remit described as such. In the maelstrom of hype and hysteria it’s supposed to be about title-stripping and punishing Rangers for crimes. It is in the atmosphere of the witch-hunt in which the tribunal was conceived and in which it meets.
The leaks from inside the SPL and SFA do not give much comfort for anyone expecting a fair hearing. And bear in mind that the SFA is the appeals body in this affair. I myself was present to witness the bizarre behaviour of SFA Chief Executive last summer when he walked out of a meeting with Rangers fan reps. Celtic’s lawyers are the SPL’s lawyers and have prepared and presented the case against Rangers with something approaching the zeal of the convert.
Initially Rangers were not, on the advice of a QC, going to defend the action. To do so would have granted credibility to the proceedings. However, two things have changed.
Firstly - the result of the 1st Tier Tax Tribunal and it’s Not Guilty verdict. The ladies and gentlemen of the Scottish Press may wish to re-read that last sentence - NOT GUILTY. It wasn’t a majority verdict, it wasn’t an initial verdict, it wasn’t a split verdict - it was NOT GUILTY. Try saying it out loud.
The Tribunal held the EBT’s to be lawful - non-contractual, not remuneration, not a sham.
From that verdict - the two Tribunal members who were lawyers explained their reasoning, the dissenting voice was an accountant - flow several points. In his writings Lord Nimmo-Smith has made it clear he is bound by case law - so he is hardly likely to be able to feel in a position to countermand the decision of a court of law - which is what a 1st Tier Tax Tribunal is - established case law; case law made by two lawyers one of whom was a High Court judge.
Secondly, in the atmosphere in which Lord Nimmo-Smith found himself operating he felt the need to issue a 20+ page note of Reasons prior to the commission sitting. In it he covers many issues not least of which are the integrity of the individuals concerned, their competence, their remit, the background, and the nature of a football club both as a legal and sporting entity. Have a read at it - it’s worth the effort and will make very uncomfortable reading for Rangers-haters.
THE FRENZY OF SPECULATION
Like most Rangers fans I’ve been concerned but not surprised by the concerted campaign in the media to pre-judge the case. The language used is designed to injure the Rangers case - hence the terms “dual contract” and “side letters” are often used to conjure up an illusion that Rangers operated two sets of accounts and two sets of contracts which they hid from the authorities.
If you actually bother to read any of the short notes written to players or their agents in reply to queries about the operation of the EBTs then you’ll find the contents bear no relation to the headlines. It’ a bit like taking your boss how much the company is taking off your salary for a pension contribution and being told the percentage. And that is what the Tax Tribunal held to be the case.
PREDICT A VERDICT?
Having bothered to read the findings of the 1st Tier Tax Tribunal I’m very confident that the charges will be thrown out. To do otherwise would be to fly in the face not just of reality but case law and the work of that Tribunal which had available to itself the power to summon documents and witnesses with the full might and majesty of the law.
WHAT IF THE STORY RUNS AND RUNS?
The Rangers Fans Fighting Fund sits at £530,000 and is pledged to underwrite the costs of the defence of the titles, not of the cost of the Commission. Should more be required I have absolute confidence that a million will be raised at the drop of a hat.
Any decision can be appealed to every court in the land, in Europe, go to judicial review, or any sports law body you can think of.
The cost to Scottish football of pandering to Celtic’s obsession has already been high - Harper McLeod’s fees are heading towards £250,000 for hyping up what at best could be described as a difference of opinion over an alleged administrative error.
Imagine the good that money could have done if poured into kids football in our communities rather than down the drain of obsession and hate?
But then, common sense far less the well-being of children and Scotland’s sporting future doesn’t appear to have been a consideration in this debacle.
SPL CLUBS WILL CARRY THE CAN
Lord Nimmo Smith’s 21 pages are well worth a read particularly at page 19 where he points out that the commission is not empowered to deprive the administrator of assets by imposing a financial sanction which might constitute the SPL a creditor of Oldco.
If the SPL did want to become a creditor it has to go to court and that might mean the commission becomes a “legal process” within the meaning of the statute.
In that respect I believe they are outwith the time limits for doing so.
So the SPL must have a secret hoard of cash to be able to fund the irrecoverable costs of the commission.