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Why no bright light on our Whyte knight?
Published : 22 Feb 2011 02:15:10
Craig Whyte is looking to buy Rangers - but what do we know of him? Before Fergus McCann took over Celtic for years beforehand those who could be bothered knew from the mainstream media all about the shareholdings, backgrounds and plans of those involved. It’s a remarkable contrast to the dearth of information in the media over the last 20 years or so concerning the affairs of the Murray Group. This may be because Sir David cultivated key members of the press to an extraordinary degree – witness the guest list at assorted weddings and parties – or it may be that newspaper no longer have the resources to do this sort of research. Whatever the reasons it is an extraordinary contrast. I think we Bears can agree that it’s pretty sensible that a certain amount of verifiable information should be available concerning the owner – or owners – of the club. Certainly in America this is par for the course. In all five major sports – NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA and MLS owners have to satisfy rigorous background checks as to the source of funds and have to prove that varying percentages of it are ‘unencumbered capital’ – i.e., that they have not borrowed too heavily to finance the purchase the franchise. Some of us may have had our differences with Sir David’s custodianship over the years but anyone with the time on their hands can obtain the accounts of his 130+ companies – it’s all available and all are audited for years by major accountancy firms. In essence they tell us Sir David is a man of very substantial means with companies that year after year for 30 years have produced meaningful funds. It is vital that the new owners of RFC have deep pockets, that any income stream they are depending on to fund the club are stable and that the source and repayment rates of any borrowings they may depend upon are sensible. It is not, for example, acceptable that the ownership of Rangers FC should be hidden behind overseas trust vehicles the source of whose funds and the identity of the beneficial owners are hidden from the public as has been the case in England in recent years. Applying the same perfectly reasonable standards to Mr Whyte what do we learn of him, his background, his plans for the club, his funding, his business interests? Making use of public records what follows is the best I can come up with so far. There has been much talk about Craig Whyte and his interest in Rangers Football Club. There has been discussion about how he is a billionaire, near-billionaire or maybe a multi millionaire and that he’s ready to provide Walter Smith with a war-chest should he take control. Everything we’ve been told about Craig Whyte has been taken at face value; nothing has been investigated further and we’ve not seen the level of scrutiny that came with the alleged interest of that previously ‘interested millionaire’ that was Graham Duffy. Many people are clearly delighted that there is an apparently strong supply of ex-pat Scots who’ve went away after indifferent business careers here in the UK and made good. That there is a desire to return home and help stabilise Rangers is something that should be applauded. So why did Graham Duffy’s interest amount to nothing? Perhaps it was due to him not having the funds many initially claimed and the fact that he was wanting to spearhead a fans movement to buy the club rather than putting up the money himself? (was he was planning on underwriting this with borrowings or cash?) Craig Whyte’s name has been in the public domain for quite some time as has a suggestion that an agreement has been reached between him and Sir David Murray. So, who is Craig Whyte? I’ve actually sat back in amazement at the lack of scrutiny placed on the man who would wish to own one of Scotland’s finest institutions. There have been articles in the Sunday Mail regarding his ‘payment dispute’ with a building material supplier but very little informed comment over and above that. As some of you may already have done, my first port of call when I heard his name was to have a quick look at the companies he was involved in; as many people had done with Andrew Ellis. My initial reaction was similar to the reaction I had when I dug a little deeper into Mr Ellis and that I could not foresee a takeover being possible unless he was getting additional funding from elsewhere or was acting as a front man in the deal for someone else. Imagine the surprise then when no-one else, not even multi national newspapers, with much greater resource than me went public with what you can find out about Craig Whyte. I would also caution that there could be much more wealth and assets associated with Mr Whyte offshore which is much harder to pin down. However, as a simple soul I’d suggest one of the reasons wealthy businessmen have their money offshore is so they don’t have to bring it back. Anyway, now to the analysis based on the most up to date records I can find from Companies House. Craig Whyte is a director of all the following companies: Cairnwell Investments Limited Countryliner Group Ltd Merchant Corporate Recovery PLC Merchant House Securities Limited Merchant Interactive Ltd Merchant Strategic Renewal PLC Tixway UK Limited Zemfill PLC Pritchard Stockbrokers Limited Merchant Turnaround PLC Only Pritchard Stockbrokers and Tixway UK Ltd have filed any accounts of any note and/or have put a total net worth of the business on record with Companies House. Pritchards has a total net worth according to last accounts of £303,000. Craig Whyte does not appear to be a shareholder although Cairnwell Investments (of which he is a director) have about 9% of the issued share capital of Pritchards. Cairnwell Investments are wholly owned by a Hugh Fleming. So it appears as if he owns none of a company of which he’s a director and has a total net worth of £303,000. The other company, Tixway UK Ltd, has a total net worth £1,825,000. It is owned by Liberty Group PLC & Merchant House Group PLC. The only companies he is a director of have little value and he has little or no shareholding in many of them. You can then follow the various trails of ownership of other companies but nothing points towards Craig Whyte having any major form of ownership of any of them. One of the companies that jump out is Countryliner Group Ltd. This may be a fairly innocuous company involved in the coach hire business but it was one worth scrutinising. You see, Countryliner Group Ltd fully own the only issued share in another coach business called C&S Coach Travel Ltd. C&S Coach Travel do not appear to be part of a larger group when looked at in Companies House. However, when you look at their issued share capital it comes to £1 and it is owned by Countryliner Group Ltd which is now partly owned (511 of 1000 issued shares) by Merchant Corporate Recovery in which Craig Whyte is involved. The interesting thing about C&S Coach Travel is that they received the largest ever VOSA fine (see article from September 2010) totaling £451,000. This is a business with issued share capital of £1 owned by a company with a net worth of MINUS £959,000. The latest development is the setting up (in circa August 2010) of a number of companies with very similar trading names to the various companies operated with the Countryliner Group with their address given as RES Associates Ltd whose business is accounting and who operate from Royal Exchange Square in Glasgow. Whilst we’ve established that two businesses that Craig Whyte is a director of but does not appear to own have a total net worth of about £2.1m he’s involved with other ones with negative values or no value at all. Sir David has told us he came close to selling in a London hotel – did we hear about it at the time? Not a peep. He also said other bids were made but again these were kept in the strictest confidence. Why has this “takeover” been so public? I keep reading with amazement that Craig Whyte will “jet in” for talks over his Rangers bid? Jet in from where? Monte Carlo? Costa Rica? His castle in the Highlands? Craig Whyte doesn’t need to jet in from anywhere – he’s very much back in the Glasgow scene and he arrived there in style on the day of the Cash for Kids lunch. There may be others more skilled in the procuring and analysis of company accounts and shareholdings - if any of the foregoing is faulty analysis I’d like to hear from you. It is perfectly possible that Mr Whyte has become a billionaire from his business dealings in the UK or overseas, I just can’t find the documentation to support this. Any new owner of Rangers Football Club will have to have very deep pockets and he will have to have the fans believing in him and backing him. As of now we know next to nothing of Mr Whyte’s plans nor how he intends to fund the club going forward, nor the source of that funding. I would suggest that it’s better than we know these things now rather than be told them after any transfer of ownership.