Interesting James Traynor on EBTs

19 Sep

By James Traynor  |  17 Sep 2012 08:09THIS might stick in the craw of those Holy Willies who believe EBT payments to have been the work of the devil, or worse Rangers, but it might be time to drop this costly SPL charade.Financial mismanagement at Ibrox has already cost the game more than enough in legal fees but only the heartless and mean-spirited would continue to argue Rangers and their fans haven’t suffered.Whether or not they’ve suffered enough is a debate which will still rage, mostly in the cyber domains of the deranged, but it’s nonsense to suggest they haven’t been damaged.They’ve lost status and credibility. They’ve been docked points, fined, ridiculed and hounded. They’ve been accused of cheating and phrases like “match fixing” and “financial doping” are now routinely tossed into the mix, even in reasoned discussions.A huge, dark cloud, bloated with swirling accusations, stupidity, and hatred, sits over the case of Rangers and their use of Employee Benefit Trusts. The story has been distorted, in some cases by misunderstanding, but in others by deliberate design.Some argue they grabbed a handful of titles through financial deception and now these must be erased from the record books. The reasoning is Rangers won with players they couldn’t have afforded if they’d been paying tax on the full amounts. They cheated the tax man, the country and their fellow clubs. But did they really?The shenanigans which caused the collapse of Rangers are scandalous but, when you blow away myth and fantasy, an immense stretch of the imagination is required to declare Rangers cheated anyone. EBTs were not illegal in the 10 years Rangers used them and both the SFA and SPL were fully aware of them.They were never hidden and always declared in the audited accounts under the term Remuneration Trust.Rangers shut them down when the law changed in 2010 and also at that time it was said the club had been operating a dual-contract system in relation to the EBT. The SFA contacted Rangers and asked for an explanation, which was given.The SFA then granted Rangers’ licence to continue playing, just as they had done every year of the EBT era. The SPL didn’t have any objections either at that time.Neither one of these bodies thought to question Rangers at any time in 10 years so what has changed? Why are the SPL, a body short of cash, spending money on another legal pursuit which may prove to be trivial?Even those supporters of other clubs, who believed EBTs were illegal for no other reason than they wanted it to be so just because it was big, bad Rangers, must accept they were above board. Unless, of course, they now choose not to believe the SPL, the very body they’ve been insisting must bring Rangers to task. In explaining why Celtic have no case to answer, even though they had an EBT for Juninho, the SPL have underlined that this form of payment was acceptable.But the crucial difference, according to the SPL, is Juninho didn’t take any EBT payment until he’d left the club. The league say Rangers have to be investigated because their EBT use was widespread and their players took payments during Ibrox stints.There’s no denying Rangers had a huge number on EBT over a 10-year period but the SPL, if the documents before Lord Nimmo-Smith and his commission are thorough, will find quite a few of these players did exactly the same as Juninho.The SPL, it can be assumed safely enough, are questioning whether or not letters to players detailing their EBT are secondary agreements but Rangers’ lawyers insist these can’t be described as contracts because EBTs are discretionary loans, or bonus payments, and not contractual.In fact, these payments are so bizarre that players get their loans which are to be repaid with interest at the end of an agreed period but actually, the money is rarely, if ever, given back.Juninho’s payment was apparently a “golden handshake” but for what? Not for working in a Celtic Park tea bar that’s for sure. He got his payment for his contributions as a player and, rather than make him different from anyone at Ibrox, that makes him exactly the same.So, basically, what we are dealing with is a technicality. Rangers didn’t attempt to hide the EBT but if in registering the players without making reference to the loan letters they breached any of the SPL’s rules, why weren’t the errors picked up from year one?The SFA and SPL saw the annual accounts, saw the EBT and allowed Rangers to carry on regardless. Now, however, the SPL, or their lawyers, Harper Macleod, have found something wrong but are we saying Rangers should have titles taken away because of a technicality or the SPL’s own incompetence?If so, that’s patently absurd. And it is petty in the extreme.Rangers, who had about 11 different chartered accountants on their board in the EBT years, would have known if the authorities had any problem with their papers and there would also have been an “informal” exchange of certain pieces of financial information between Rangers and Celtic.These two would have scrutinised one another’s annual accounts so if anything had been amiss with Rangers’ practice why wouldn’t Celtic have brought it to light?If there is a problem why was it overlooked for so long and who will take responsibility at the SFA and SPL?The same people, incidentally, did nothing when alerted to the fact Craig Whyte wasn’t handing over PAYE millions. Indeed, one SFA individual actually had dinner with Whyte late last year. Yet, he was allowed to carry on for months until Rangers slipped into administration. I’m sorry but neither the SFA nor SPL can examine their own standards and behaviours and believe they did enough.I am not suggesting for one second the game’s authorities are responsible for Rangers’ collapse. Neither was it an EBT habit, nor that outrageous level of debt run up by David Murray 12 years ago, which closed Rangers.That’s down to one man, Whyte, who got a winning club when the debt had been reduced to £18m. He should and could have been stopped before the damage became too severe and before HMRC had lost a fortune, although they themselves could have minimised the cost by acting earlier.They were well aware of Whyte through his previous dealings and might have taken the view he had bought Rangers hoping it would be put into liquidation if the big tax case ruling went against the club. Rangers would have been lumbered with a bill of around £50m and Whyte could have blamed HMRC for closure.It didn’t play out that way and the verdict isn’t expected now until October but why did the revenue allow Whyte to continue for so long when he wasn’t handing over taxes?They were communicating with administrators Duff and Phelps over this issue and were offering payment plans which Whyte didn’t use.Why? If they’d taken action at the right time, instead of waiting until June, when they refused Charles Green’s CVA offer and Rangers were plunged into liquidation, the cost to many of the creditors would have been much less. They are the real victims, not supporters who think they’ve been done out of a few titles.

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