This tangled web has strands going back a ways, but the main focus will be on things that happened from 2011 onwards, from the day Craig Whyte took over Rangers and past what happened when he placed it into administration and set in motion the chain of events leading to their destruction.
Wednesday next week will be the first anniversary of the untimely death of Paul McConville, a man who did as much to bring these events to the attention of the wider world as anyone.
His mind was capable of sifting through all the legalese and getting to the truth amidst the media spin and nonsense, on all sides, including a lot of wishful thinking amongst Celtic fans.
More than that though; he had a way of putting it all down in words that the layperson could grasp easily, and so he made accessible what was a minefield of heavy information, not something most people would have chosen to dig into.
God rest him, but oh how I wish he were here right now.
Thankfully, he was not then working alone and on The Scottish Football Monitor, itself having grown out of the Rangers Tax Case blog, that work continues, and it’s where the most in-depth examination of these events is still taking place.
This is the biggest story in the history of Scottish sport, and one of the biggest in the history of football itself.
There are many facets to this story, many different threads to follow, and it doesn’t just involve the financial affairs at Ibrox, although that’s clearly where the main focus has always been. This story has roots in football governance, in the banking scandal, in our politics and in social circles far outside the lives of ordinary people.
If this were a movie it would have scenes in places like Monaco and the financial district of London. Yet there would also be scenes in the grubby backstreet pubs where the standard tat on the walls vies for prominence with old photos of Rangers men and flags with the names of Loyalist paramilitary organisations emblazoned on them.
It would have moments in bank boardrooms and scenes in the Stock Exchange. Yet it would also feature men in dingy offices, crowded around phones, trying to bum up the price of valueless shares; think The Wolf of Wall Street with Motherwell accents, Buckfast on tap, and less visible wealth, and you’ll get the gist.
To tell it all would take a while, but I’ve long flirted with the idea of writing a book about it. Every time I think I could start the hole gets deeper and wider and I realise we’ve not seen the full story yet. To write one now would be to leave the job half done.
Today’s events are nothing I’ve not been expecting to see. I’ve written well over 100,000 words on this subject already –enough to fill a nice sized book on their own – and I expect to write another 200,000 before this is all wrapped up in a bow. I wholeheartedly believe people will go to jail in connection with it, on charges of fraud and other financial offences, but maybe not just that.
Without getting too far ahead of ourselves though, let’s have a look at today’s events, and how they tie into the bigger picture.
I think these are the most significant developments we’ve had in a while, and are the ones which could ultimately change the face of our sport.
Today four men have been “detained” by police, enquiring into “the fraudulent acquisition of assets”. There is some dubiety over which year this investigation centres on, but we can probably clear a few things up simply by looking at the names of those individuals.
At least two of them are definitively connected to the 2011 takeover by Craig Whyte, and one of those to the subsequent running of the club, events which are already the subject of a £25 million case which BDO have launched against the law firm Collyer Bristow.
The individual detained today, who’s name binds the takeover and the events leading up 14 February 2012, and who worked for Collyer at the time, and then as a director at Rangers during the Whyte era, is Gary Whitey. More on him later.
The other man we can categorically say was linked to the 2011 case is Duff & Phelps’ David Grier, the man who advised Craig Whyte during his takeover at Ibrox, and specifically on the Ticketus deal, and who Craig Whyte secretly tape-recording during one of their many meetings.
This story was raised by the BBC during the Rangers crisis post Whyte, where Duff & Phelps were running one of the oddest corporate administrations any of us has ever seen, and Grier’s involvement in those earlier events was the subject of a court hearing, where he and Duff & Phelps successfully defended themselves from “conflict of interest” accusations.
What makes the matter most interesting, of course, is that those accusations concerned events in 2012, when Grier was involved in the process by which the broken bits of the shattered club ended up in the hands of Charles Green and his people, who’s sudden appearance, out of nowhere, and purchase of everything at fire sale prices, has always seemed a little suspect.
The circle is completed when we consider the names of the two others who police have been talking to today, the men who served at the front of the house during the administration/liquidation/asset sale process, and who, until today, were not thought to have any involvement in the 2011 saga.
They are Paul Clark and David Whitehouse. They were the court appointed administrators of Rangers in 2012, working at Duff & Phelps, the company Whyte successfully lobbied for, over the objections of HMRC, who wanted their own guys, at BDO, running things from the start.
BDO are, of course, now handling the liquidation of the club, and independently investigating everything that took place from the day Craig Whyte took over and beyond, including the Charles Green affair, and probably subsequent events including the December 2012 share issue.
Duff & Phelps have responded this evening to today’s events, by claiming the investigation relates to work that “commenced while these employees were part of MCR Partners, prior to its acquisition by Duff & Phelps in October of 2011″.
Does this claim really stand up, though, and can a company as respected as Duff & Phelps really believe that’s all it’ll involve?
It was David Grier, and the claims about his involvement, at that time, in the Ticketus arrangement, that were the subject of the hearing before Lord Hodge into “conflict of interest” claims. During that time, Duff & Phelps defended themselves by saying his involvement at Ibrox was limited to that. Today they’ve intimated that the two men they appointed to run the administration of the club were involved in the same affair.
Did Duff & Phelps disclose this wider connection in court? It is hard to believe any judge would have allowed all three men to play a role in the administration in those circumstances.
If all three men were, in fact, involved in Whyte’s acquisition of Rangers, were they not the very worst people for the company to have appointed to oversee an investigation into his conduct afterwards?
Because even if Duff & Phelps are, in fact, correct, and not just indulging in a bit of positive PR, and the investigation centres on the actions of the three men in connection with Whyte’s takeover, it is difficult to see how the scope of this does not widen, automatically, to include the 2012 administration, as all three men were involved in that too and chosen, specifically, by Craig Whyte himself.
Duff & Phelps’ statement is a clear effort to distance one event from the other, but as we’ve already seen, and as I shall explore, those events are inextricably linked, and Craig Whyte’s involvement in the saga did not end the minute Duff & Phelps took everything over.
The Craig Whyte takeover scandal seems to revolve around who knew what with Ticketus, but it’s the other takeover which has long raised eyebrows, and in which the Duff & Phelps three were key players.
So let’s look at that affair for a moment.
When Duff & Phelps sold the assets of Rangers, they were originally supposed to be selling them to a company called Sevco 5088, a company set up by Charles Green, and, as we later found out, in an odd partnership with Craig Whyte himself.
We’ll get to Whyte in a while, but it’s his claims, never denied, that he was involved in the setup of Sevco 5088, which link the two takeovers, and the Duff & Phelps 3, making it impossible to separate the two affairs.
Paul McConville covered the Sevco 5088 issue on 27 June 2012, when he used his blog to ask the question no-one in the media wanted to ask.
The legal agreement of sale, which existing between Craig Whyte, Duff & Phelps and the Charles Green consortium, named Sevco 5088 as the company which would purchase the assets of Rangers Football Club in liquidation.
Yet, as we all know, the assets were, in fact, purchased by another company entirely; Sevco Scotland Ltd.
Let’s go over that one again, in light of Duff & Phelps claims today.
Three of their employees, who had, whilst at a firm Duff & Phelps later took over, assisted Craig Whyte in his initial takeover of the club, were appointed by Whyte, whilst at Duff & Phelps, to run the club in administration.
Whilst in that role they then agreed to sell the assets, in a fire-sale, to a company Whyte had helped to set up. He claims to have evidence to support this, and we will take a look at that a little later. Despite a legal contract to this effect, the administrators sold the company to Sevco Scotland Ltd instead.
The thread that connects both takeovers is clear. Investigate the conduct of those three men in one and you have to investigate their conduct in the other, particularly as Whyte is also involved. No matter what the media says, no matter what Duff & Phelps claim, any good and thorough examination of the first one inevitably results in a wider inquiry, involving the 2012 deal.
So, let’s focus on the 2012 deal again.
What really went on? Why did the sale to Sevco 5088 not happen?
We now know that Charles Green had been working alongside Craig Whyte, in setting up the company known as Sevco 5088; that they were, in fact, joint partners in that venture, as the Duff & Phelps 3 must have been aware.
Craig Whyte was the mystery man behind the enterprise and Charles Green was the guy who was at the front of the house. This was being done, at least on the surface of it, because Whyte knew he couldn’t be seen to have any public involvement in the NewCo.
But it also begs questions as to what Duff & Phelps were up to, or what those working under their flag were playing at. Whyte’s involvement would have made Sevco a phoenix company, but would not have been allowed by the football bodies. Did Duff & Phelps know at the time that he was using Green as a front man, so he could keep running things? Their prior working relationship suggests a deeper involvement with Whyte than we’re aware, so why wouldn’t they have been in on the arrangement?
Regardless of that, it’s what happened next that is really explosive, and we know that it happened because none of the parties involved has exactly kept it a secret.
Sometime shortly after Duff & Phelps signed that legal agreement to sell to Sevco 5088, they sold the assets to Sevco Scotland Limited instead.
Paul McConville was not the only person who was immediately alert to the issue, and he was asking questions about it a month before the SFA granted Green’s club a license, and before the ratification of the now notorious Five Way Agreement, which allowed them onto a pitch.
Looking back, we can confirm these facts, and keep in mind that Paul had identified problems with Sevco Scotland well in advance.
It was Sevco Scotland Limited who were given an SFA share, as the owners of the assets. This deal was completed, and announced, on the SFA website, on 27 July 2012.
It was Sevco Scotland Limited which signed the Five Way Agreement, allowing the club to take part in professional football. This deal was concluded after an SFA membership was granted.
We know this because the Five Way Agreement remained unsigned on 21 July, as the BBC and other news outlets reported at the time.
But we know that it was still not concluded on 29 July.
We know that because Sevco Scotland were only granted a temporary license to play their first match, against Brechin City, in the Ramsden’s Cup, on that date.
The SFA has no excuse for their failure to get answers on the Sevco ownership situation. Serious questions were being raised about Sevco Scotland Limited from the moment they took possession of the assets, and Paul McConville and others were already well versed on the main issues weeks before the SFA granted a license to the company.
This site, and others, have long argued that The Five Way Agreement is the deadliest document in the history of the Scottish game, and for many reasons.
Paramount amongst them is that it is the only document signed not only by Charles Green, on behalf of Sevco Scotland, and the governing bodies, but it also bears the signatures of the administrators at Duff & Phelps, the very people who have, today, been detained by police, in connection with the “alleged fraudulent acquisition of Rangers Football Club.”
Those accusations, whether about 2011 or not, can be directly linked to last year, by Craig Whyte’s re-emergence, when he made the claims about his involvement in the setting up of Sevco 5088.
Incredible as it seems, Charles Green made no attempt to deny any of Whyte’s claims, but actually mounted the most bizarre defence I have ever heard for what was really going on.
Yes, he said, I helped Craig Whyte set up that company, to acquire the assets of the former Rangers Football Club. But it was never my intention to honour that agreement, and when the time came I set up another company and transferred it all to them instead.
This is paraphrasing, but not by much. What he actually said is this:
“We told him what he wanted to hear. Imran told him because we needed to keep him sweet to prise the club away from him.”
By his own admission, undisguised and unrepentantly, Charles Green did, in fact, dupe Craig Whyte, using Sevco Scotland to complete the switcheroo.
In essence, he admits, freely, that the basis of what Whyte says is factual, which boils down to Sevco Scotland being the agency of a fraud.
The news today, about the detention of Duff & Phelps’ administrators, the very people who signed the binding agreement to sell the company to Sevco 5088, and who eventually sold it to another company entirely, is devastating for any number of reasons, because it casts the whole 2012 administration process into the darkest doubt, and it might even invalidate the 2012 share issue and that could have ramifications for everyone up to and including Mike Ashley.
If you accept that divorcing the 2011 takeover from the 2012 asset sale is impossible, because of those involved in both, you have to accept that every shareholder left from that time might be sitting on an unexploded bomb. If you accept that then the validity of every share is in debate, and is something the courts are probably going to have to decide.
All of this continues to make Sevco Rangers an absolutely toxic asset, one no ordinary businessman would touch with a 20 foot pole, unless it was to make a quick buck.
Yet what today does, above all else, is cast a dark shadow over the SFA and their administration of the Scottish game. In the inevitable event that this scandal spreads to encompass what happened from February 2012 onwards it will engulf them, and not just because of the Five Way Agreement, on which are the signatures of people who might yet find themselves in court.
From the moment Charles Green swept into town, there were serious issues with his conduct and with the manner of his takeover. Any number of these concerns were raised, in public forums, at the time, by the brilliant Paul McConville and others.
I can also state categorically that there were deep misgivings about all this within the ranks of the SFA itself; this is not speculation, it is fact.
These issues were raised in meetings, by representatives of some of the member clubs, and by officials who were deeply concerned that the Scottish game might be engulfed in a major scandal if the wrong decisions were made.
But those misgivings were ignored and those who raised them marginalised in the rush to get a club wearing the Rangers crest out on a football pitch.
The SFA’s insistence on allowing “self-policing” is the stuff of dreams for any con artist and crook who wants to acquire a club to hide the proceeds of criminal activity, knowing that regulations and licensing requirements are as lax as they could ever hope to find.
What’s more, those at the very top of our game know this, and they have long known it, as they know that what’s happened at Ibrox is a scandal without precedent, the sort that can send people to prison.
They are also fully aware of the ramifications of having granted a license to a company that had no legal basis on which to exist, when serious questions had already been raised on a widely respected public forum, by a legal expert, and they will know what it means for their standards of governance if it is later proved in court that Sevco Scotland was created to facilitate fraud.
Their knowledge of this can be easily inferred from their refusal to order a full investigation into these matters when they were raised in April last year, when Craig Whyte surfaced with his tape recordings and claims about Sevco 5088.
Those thermonuclear claims – which were the subject of a complaint to the Serious Fraud Office at the time – rocked Hampden to its foundations, and threatened to uncover their own complicity in all this, from a time when they were rushing to get a viable footballing operation licensed at Ibrox.
Their very real fears over what an independent investigation might discover were the reason they allowed the most farcical moment of this whole affair; the ludicrous internal investigation at Sevco Rangers, which ended in the Pinsent Mason Report.
In my piece last night, I talked about the insanity of conspiracy theorists demanding answers from the people they were accusing of taking part in the conspiracy.
You have to wonder what the SFA were afraid of finding out, or having found out, when they allowed the very people who were accused of being involved in a fraud to investigate those claims.
Not a single person, anywhere, believed that would produce anything less than a whitewash, and so it turned out; the scope of the investigation was narrow enough that it was never likely to find out anything important, and the SFA accepted it as if it had dug far and deep.
But they clearly didn’t want an investigation which might lead anywhere real, and every single one of us is fully entitled to speculate on what they were afraid of being found.
Today’s “detentions” might well end up going nowhere, but I seriously doubt that.
The full scandal at Ibrox, stretching from at least 2011, and actually from a long time before that, has victims numbered in the millions. It is a fraud against the UK Treasury which is breathtaking in size.
The scale of what BDO have uncovered in their own wide-ranging investigations is staggering. Whether the Big Tax Case is won or lost, it’s clear that the tax payer has been picking up the tab at Ibrox for many, many years. Rangers’ total tax liability, including the Big Tax Case, was estimated at more than £90 million when BDO started liquidation proceedings, and that didn’t end when Craig Whyte put the whole thing into administration in February 2012.
For that administration netted almost nothing for the Treasury or the other creditors.
The company that was sold for £5.5 million was partially floated on the AIM exchange a mere six months later for four times that sum, and has property assets which, alone, were valued at over ten times the purchase price.
Of the £5.5 million which was “recovered for the creditors” Duff & Phelps, fronted by three men who’ve spent today in police custody, netted £3.3 million.
The size of this is enormous. The consequences when it all ends will be colossal.
Tonight, as I prepare to post this, rumours continue to circulate about the imminent issuing of an arrest warrant for Craig Thomas Whyte, in connection with these affairs.
A lot of people have spent a long time hoping that day would never come to pass, and they will be praying that it is forestalled even now.
His penchant for keeping records, and taping his “partners” was not limited to a few dinners with Charles Green and others, but goes back to the days when he was still involved at Rangers, as the “Motherwell Born Billionaire.”
Who he taped, saying what, is the subject of much speculation but it will have sown seeds of fear far and wide.
Whyte has been slaughtered by everyone from the media to the governing bodies. He has seen his castle sold from under him. He is facing multi-million pound lawsuits from any number of avenues, and although few would take him at his word he’s not unaware of the fact, and has always made sure he’s got evidence to support his claims.
This is a man with a lot to disclose, and absolutely nothing to lose.
He’s not the only one in this saga who is sitting on a mountain of explosive information. David Grier’s role in the Whyte takeover carries on an involvement with the affairs of David Murray, and probably Rangers, that goes back even longer, for he was one of the men in Gavin Masterton’s circle of friends when he worked at the Bank of Scotland at a time when they were throwing money at MIH and the Ibrox operation … money they didn’t have and for which the taxpayer later picked up the tab, when the bank was nationalised in 2008.
This is a ticking time-bomb, and tonight a lot of people are preparing to go to ground.
This is a story with plenty mileage, and many more chapters to write, but today’s events have lit the fuse for an explosion that will stun people who’ve not been closely following this affair.
For the rest of us, well the questions will just keep on coming, but so too will some of the answers. There will be no hiding place for the officials who’ve looked the other way and allowed this developing scandal to go on right under their noses.
This scandal is their scandal, not just because it happened on their watch. They are either up their waists in it or they closed their eyes and turned their heads away in one of the most astonishing abrogation’s of responsibility in the history of sports governance.
Many of us have been waiting for this shoe to drop for a long time, arguing that it was too big to keep contained, that the window had too many cracks in it.
A cold wind now howls through that broken pane.
This is the beginning of the end.
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