Tax Deal “Rumour”: What was the point?
06/01/2012 3,553 Comments
Scotland’s sports journalists have surpassed themselves recently. Even by their own fathomless standards for getting it wrong, the release of the summary minutes of the Rangers Supporters Assembly (RSA) meeting with Craig Whyte could not have done more illustrate the scale of the credibility problem facing the mainstream sports media in this country.
Mark Guidi’s regular slot on Radio Clyde’s Superscoreboard has given him a platform to embarrass himself repeatedly. On 27 December, Mr. Guidi told us that there was “a groundswell that the tax case will be sorted out before the case resumes”. Just this week, he used this pulpit to tell us all that HMRC will be happy to accept a greatly reduced figure (£5-6 million) from Rangers. According to Guidi, HMRC has only won 5% of similar cases. (This is not only wrong, it does not even make any sense. Rangers’ case is quite unique in several ways). His colleagues have made many similar misstatements.
When a caller (Terry) informed him that these stories were nonsense (citing this blog as his source), Guidi denied any knowledge of our existence let alone having ever read our content. However, the caller was correct. Guidi was talking nonsense. Of course, there is no need to take my word for it. Who better than Craig Whyte and the RSA to clear up the confusion: “No scope for negotiating a settlement with HMRC due to the criticism they have had from MPs and the Media about some high-profile ‘deals’“. If someone can see fit to forward a link to our site to Guidi, it might be a good place for him to start doing research before he makes things worse.
Guidi and several other Scottish sport journalists have been pumping up the hopes of Rangers fans with these tales of a deal being imminent for several weeks. The question is: why? We know already that Rangers’ PR firm, Media House (ran by Jack Irvine), have been spreading the optimisic ‘deal about to be done’ story around every newsroom in the country. That does not answer the question as to why a journalist would believe any PR-rep’s stories about Rangers. If they told me that Ibrox was in the G51 postcode, I would have to walk there and look- such has been the trail of lies and disinformation since Whyte’s name was first linked with the club. Were they promised upcoming transfer exclusives? Perhaps. More to the point, why did Media House hype this story only to be contradicted by Whyte himself within a matter of weeks? I hope that Jack is working cheaply because this looks like it was a complete waste of time and money. Sources within Ibrox have described the daily operations since the takeover as ‘shambolic’. It certainly seems that way from the outside.
Mr. Whyte also confirmed HMRC’s powers to demand payment if/when the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) finds against them. We have made this point several times (including the previous blog entry): should the assessments of tax liability in Rangers’ possession be confirmed, the bill becomes due and payable immediately. Even if Rangers appeal the findings, HMRC has the right to demand payment without further delay. (If Rangers won their appeal, they would be entitled to full repayment plus interest, but that is academic as they would have already become insolvent).
If an appeal is seen to be reasonable i.e. where it is obvious that there is some ambiguity in the law or that the employer drifted over the line into illegality rather than raced across it, the taxman will not usually press for payment when doing so would cause insolvency. However, where the appeal is vexatious (i.e. no real chance of winning it- just being done as a heel-dragging exercise), then HMRC would be justified in taking a tougher line.
It may not help their case that Rangers have launched an appeal for the £2.8 million that was taken (most of it forcibly- after a court order) for the Discounted Options Scheme (“The Wee Case”). After months of correspondence over The Wee Case where the admission of liability was clear, if Rangers’ appeal is viewed as being without a reasonable legal basis, HMRC might take a more dim view of an appeal relating to The Big Case.
Craig Whyte has made clear, in his own words and in the takeover contract documents, that he believes that his position in the event of insolvency is protected through the £18 million debt owed to him by Rangers and the floating charge over the club’s assets. It is very obvious that Rangers FC have no intention of paying anything close to the full amount of tax, interest, and penalties that have been assessed. The implicit threat is “we will go under and HMRC will get nothing” .
If this case was only about immediate revenue collection then HMRC should offer Rangers a deal. However, it would lay down a marker for every business owner, inside and outside of football, that one can engage in a shockingly blatant tax scam and have little to fear. If Rangers can negotiate a pennies on the pound deal now, it signals to every under-pressure company director that corners can be cut. Even if rumbled, the worst he or she would have to deal with would be repaying 10-20%- and even that would be a decade later. Sounds like a pretty tempting deal! HMRC’s credibility, and a just outcome for this case, require that life is not made easy for those whose plans rely upon ducking their social and financial responsibilities.
This blog has been accused of wishing malice on Rangers FC. This is not true. I am not one who seeks the extinction of Rangers in the style of Third Lanark. What I seek is a fair outcome- nothing more and nothing less. ‘Fair’ in this case would be any resolution that sees Rangers carry a millstone of sufficient weight, and for an appropriate duration, that counter-balances the benefits accrued from their use of the EBT scam. Since its implementation in 2000, Rangers have won the Scottish Premier League five times. The present day value of the £24 million in tax that was saved along the way is about £36 million. Without the benefit of this £36 million, Rangers’ would have have gone bankrupt years ago or would have been forced into draconian budget cuts. They got to stay at the roulette table eleven years after their own money had ran out. Only the most blind or willfully ignorant could fail to see the issue of financial doping in tainting the Scottish championship during this time. If Rangers succeed in ducking any meaningful financial restitution by exploiting kinks in bankruptcy law, then it will fall to the Scottish footballing authorities (SFA/SPL) to ensure that justice is done. A 10-point penalty will be automatic if an insolvency process overlaps with any active football season, but a “newco” club must not be given a free entry into the Scottish Premier League to take the place of Rangers. Scottish football administrators must find the balance between penalising Rangers so heavily that a new club carrying Rangers’ legacy never gets off the ground versus incurring the problems of ‘moral hazard’ by failing to extract a punishment. If football becomes like the banking industry, where wrong-doing and excessive risk taking carries no penalty, we will just continue to get more of it.
The task of finding the right balance will not be easy, but I would suggest that a formula based on Rangers (2012) FC starting each new season for a number of years with a points deficit would be along the right lines.