If you haven’t heard this one it’s a beauty.
Way back at the start of the month, on 5 April, Palace beat Cardiff by 3-0. Now the Welsh side wants the result set aside, because Palace engaged the dark arts to get their hands on their team selection in advance of the game.
It sounds barmy, and it will almost certainly never go anywhere, but it’s a clear demonstration of how seriously clubs in the English Premier League take even the appearance of cheating, or wrongdoing, or even unsporting behaviour.
I wish I could say they care about these things out of altruistic motives, or the love of the game. In fact, as we all know, it’s about money, and there’s so much of it as stake, especially at the bottom of the table, that no negative outcome can be allowed to stand if there is even the smallest hint that something isn’t kosher.
Even if I don’t entirely respect their motivation, I understand why some English clubs have made issues out of things such as this, and in the past even sued one another, as happened with Carlos Tevez’s spell at West Ham, which Sheffield United took them to court over. They won a settlement of £20 million. The numbers are huge, so these people don’t mess about.
This is why it’s all the more galling that, here in Scotland, we’ve allowed one of the greatest acts of cheating in the history of the game to, essentially, go unpunished and, furthermore, we’ve allowed the people who oversaw it to stay in post. For all the game is moving forward, it is still held back from real progress because so many things remain unresolved.
In no other corporate culture would a man like Campbell Ogilvie stay in his job. Even Fred Goodwin realised the gig was up eventually, and Maria Miller at least offered a half apology before she tried to cling on, prior to her own realisation that it was only going to end one way.
Has Ogilvie even offered that for the years he allowed Rangers to run rough-shod over the rules and regulations that govern the game? Since the Lord Nimmo Smith verdict, the supporters of this deceased club have claimed vindication, as if the findings exonerated them. They didn’t.
Rangers were found guilty of failure to properly register over 40 players. The perversity lies in how they were allowed to escape serious punishment for that scandalous list of offenses. The verdict in that case did not go in their favour. What did was that its conclusions were twisted into a shape, and a form, that still stinks to high heaven.
Scottish football needs to “move on” from this we’re told. Yes, like the country has to “move on” from the appalling economic damage done by our white collar criminals par excellence in the City of London. Because picking at this scab, what good could it possibly do?
How about delivering justice, at last? How about re-writing the historical narrative to more accurately reflect the truth?
What is the truth? That Scottish football needs Rangers? That the “punishments” already handed out to the club have damaged the game? Lies. What Scottish football really needs is a cleansing from top to bottom. What damaged the game was the way in which its entire structure was twisted out of shape to benefit just one of its teams.
Not content with excusing the industrial scale of the rule breaking inside Ibrox, Scottish football’s governing bodies ripped up and shredded the remainder of the rule book in a bid to assure that some version of that club could continue to play, and that it could continue to assume the identity of the old one even as it washed its hands of the debts.
God knows how many supporters have walked away from the game forever over this. Many are still contemplating it, because the reek of this continues to permeate the halls of power. Celtic’s place on the SPL Board of the time makes this harder, not easier, to understand for the Celtic supporters who know the Lord Nimmo Smith inquiry was a despicable fraud, decided in advance, as is clearly spelled out in the Letter of Undertaking leaked by Charlotte Fakeovers, which reads:
“….. the SPL hereby undertakes solely and exclusively to Sevco and to no other Person (defined below), that notwithstanding clause 2.1 of the Agreement that the SPL shall not after Completion take or commence disciplinary proceedings against Sevco under and in terms of the SPL Rules (as defined in the Agreement) for an alleged breach of the SPL Articles (as defined in the Agreement) and/or the SPL Rules by RFC and/or Rangers FC (as defined in the Agreement) prior to Completion in respect of any EBT Payments and Arrangements (as defined below), except where any such EBT Payments and Arrangements shall constitute a CW Enduring Act or Acts (as defined in the Agreement) …”
Stripped of the legalese, this is an SPL guarantee of July 2012 , granted to Sevco Scotland Limited, that there would be no stripping of titles for 11 years of non-disclosure of contracts, and it was signed and sealed before the LNS inquiry had even sat.
Now as noted above, the guarantee was given to Sevco, which is understandable if the buyers of the assets wanted assurances that they would not be punished for any misdemeanours perpetrated by Rangers. However as it appears the football authorities see Sevco as a continuation of Rangers, then it looks like this guarantee applied to Rangers in liquidation as perpetrators, as well as the purchasers of the assets of the liquidation sale.
I say this is how it looks, but perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps the guarantee was only given to the new club and if so no doubt the SPL successor organisation (SPFL) will put us straight on the their motives for granting it, but until they respond on this point and the others that follow, the appearance will exist, allowing us to conclude, that damage limitation was already the order of the day whilst the Lord Nimmo Smith investigation was being commissioned from April to August of 2012.
One day, books will be written that reflect the totality of what happened here, and I firmly believe that this will be recognised as one of the greatest scandals not just in the history of football but sport itself. No-one should be under any illusions about this going away. The wounds are too deep, the anger still raw. The people who did this are going to stand in judgement for it, whether that’s in the court of public opinion ten years down the road or in having to clear their desks long before that. It will happen, because justice will not quit digging until it does.
The best of that digging continues to go on over on The Scottish Football Monitor (TSFM), where they have laid out the sorry tale.
Their contributors have been working on this for a long time. An exhaustive amount of research has been done by these guys, and in times to come the fans of every club in the land will owe them a debt of gratitude.
This doesn’t just affect Celtic supporters. It affects everyone who cares about the integrity of our sport. These offenses, their disclosure, and the subsequent efforts by the governing bodies to mitigate the damage to Rangers – and at all costs that was to be their aim – impact on us all. They cannot be allowed to stand, or our game is a corrupt joke.
The work these guys have done is as exhaustive as its findings are staggering. For it is clear from what they’ve produced that the LNS inquiry was prejudiced from the beginning and that it was designed to offer cover to the governing bodies whilst they essentially ignored a decade of financial doping and failure to properly register players. But there was more to it even than that.
The EBT case centres on the allegations made by former Rangers director Hugh Adam, that the club had with-held information from the tax man and the football authorities over how Rangers paid its players from the mid-nineties all the way through until the HMRC “big tax” bombshell hit a decade later. It was, and is, an awesome series of allegations.
The investigation was launched by the SPL, and the SFA made it clear from the start they wouldn’t be getting involved, far less starting their own.
They hid behind their role as the “court of appeal”, but this was only the first abrogation of responsibility so they wouldn’t have to do any serious digging of their own. In truth, they should have launched their own investigation a long time before.
Instead, they handed control to a league body which appears to have given Rangers, if they and Sevco are the same in their eyes, a categorical assurance that the investigation would result in no serious consequences, and which, even then, was scrambling to find a way of limiting the scope to assure there wouldn’t have to be.
The SFA’s failure to investigate this matter themselves is a disgrace on its own. They were the body responsible for making sure the contracts of all the players were up to snuff. Their decision not to take this matter on was convenient in many ways, none the least of which is that if they’d ultimately been responsible for the inquiry and found, as Nimmo Smith did, that players had been wrongly registered they would have had to strip the club of Scottish Cup’s and, possibly even more alarmingly for them, hand the whole case over to UEFA, as wrongful registration of players would have had an impact on their competitions as well.
We can only speculate on the potential enormity of that, but it would certainly have been devastating. The damage done to clubs like Spartans, merely for wrongly dating a piece of paper, offer ample precedent for what the SFA would have been required to do.
As it is, Nimmo Smith’s verdict does make it clear that these offences took place, and the SFA’s failure to act in light of that speaks volumes for how little they actually want this matter resolved. They would rather it had never been raised, and they would definitely rather it just went away.
When the announcement about the inquiry was made the period under investigation was supposed to run from July 1998, from the formation of the SPL. However when the actual investigation was announced, following preliminary examination of the evidence provided to SPL lawyers Harper MacLeod, by Rangers administrators Duff & Phelps, the scope of the investigation was set to run from 23 November 2000 … for reasons that were not immediately clear.
This caused much confusion at the time. It’s only through the hard work from contributors to The Scottish Football Monitor that we can now see this in context, and understand the potential impact of the curtailment of the investigation.
The decision to limit the scope of the inquiry had eliminated an entire section of this case from being relevant. Why was it done and what was the effect?
Why it was done now requires further investigation by the SPFL, as successors to the SPL who commissioned the investigation. Someone steered the SPL towards this decision, and Scottish football’s fans need to know who that was. We cannot speak to the cause of this change, but we can see clearly that the effect was to omit the Discounted Options Scheme (DOS), better known as the Wee Tax Case, payments made to the Rangers Employee Benefit Trust (REBT), from the inquiry. There were two reasons why this was crucial to the direction of the investigation.
First, Rangers had admitted legal culpability in the case of the DOS REBTs, and had agreed to repay the money owed. Secondly, the Discounted Options Scheme had a certain set of fingerprints on it, and this made it … difficult for the SFA in particular.
Let’s start with the first point. The SFA and the SPL had a fear that if the club was found guilty of utilising a payment scheme that had been deemed illegal it would open doors best left closed, especially if there were “side letters” to that effect. The side letters, in fact, were the very reason HMRC believed this was an illegal tax avoidance scheme.
A letter the QC to the Murray Group, Andrew Thornhill, wrote to his clients, recommending they accept and settle the DOS REBT liability, as opposed to contesting it at the First Tier Tribunal alongside the later and much more extensive Murray Group Managements Remuneration Trust (MGMRT) EBTS – aka the Big Tax Case – is devastating in this regard. It reads
“The scheme was carried out in a way which suggests that arguing the case would be an uphill task. However, the deciding factor in favour of settling the matter is the existence of side letters in two instances demonstrating that there was a true intention of putting cash into the hands of players as part of their remuneration package. It does not help either that the existence of these letters has been denied or not revealed by the club.”
Thornhill is telling his clients that, in the case of the Discounted Options Scheme, they knowingly participated in a tax scam and then lied about it, not only to HMRC but to the footballing authorities. This is a step far beyond failure to disclose side contracts to the governing bodies. If a club was found to be paying its players in cash, from brown paper bags, from the proceeds of a robbery, the punishments would be so draconian the club would be as well to close shop entirely.
The Discounted Options Scheme was tax evasion, pure and simple, and tax evasion is a crime. The evidence that this was tax evasion is there in black and white, contained in one of the letters which can found on TSFM site, a letter from Rangers to HMRC explicitly denying that side letters existed. (The letters did. Copies of them are also on the TSFM site.)
This letter prompted a later response from HMRC which drew their attention to the seriousness of that denial in light of what had emerged in their own investigation. That reply is also available to view on the site. It, too, is devastating.
Which brings us neatly around to the individual who signed the contracts and initiated the Discounted Options Scheme in the first place. His name? Campbell Ogilvie.
Lord Nimmo Smith cleared him of any involvement in the EBT affair during the inquiry, based in no small part on Ogilvie’s own testimony to the inquiry, but, of course, his involvement in the Discounted Options Scheme was not disclosed to that Commission because it was not under investigation. We now know that not only did he know about it, but he was the one who instigated it having been a member of the internal Rangers Employee Remuneration group who set Rangers on the EBT road as a matter of club policy.
TSFM has the minutes of the meeting which set it up, and the letter which confirms the first two “shares” in the company which administered it. Ogilvie attended that meeting. It is his name, and his signature, on the document of ownership for the shares. That document is dated 3 September 1999.
That this man has never been held to account beggars belief. That he was re-elected SFA President, unopposed, is an outrageous stain on the reputation of our game. No explanation. No apology. No hint of contrition or personal doubt. It is disgusting.
A number of documents relating to the Discounted Options Scheme have been submitted from TSFM to Harper MacLeod the legal team who “prosecuted” the Lord Nimmo Smith case, and to the legal experts Nimmo Smith worked with on the matter. The same documents have been sent to all of the board members of the SPL. They demonstrate, clearly, that Rangers lied in their submissions to the inquiry, that they lied to the game’s heads and that some of those responsible for assuring good governance helped them do it. The Lord Nimmo Smith inquiry, already a discredited joke in some circles, is now an evident extension of the unfolding scandal that was the conduct of Rangers Football Club, from at least 1998 to the moment it vanished in 2012.
The Discounted Options Scheme was excluded from the investigation because, in that matter, the documents show that Rangers are bang to rights, and because they show Ogilvie is involved in it up to his neck. The effect of narrowing the scope was to exclude a matter that, unlike the MGMRT EBT scheme which came after it, there is no doubt Rangers, effectively, paid two players with the proceeds of a scam, and they with-held that information from the governing bodies. The person who instigated that scam ended up President of one of those governing bodies, the one which would not conduct its own investigation into this affair.
Does anything stink more than this? Actually, yes, because the Discounted Options Scheme forms the basis of the Celtic shareholders resolution which relates to the SFA granting Rangers a European license in 2011. This was the very definition of “tax liabilities payable” as Rangers knew full well, and as Campbell Ogilvie was equally aware given his attendance, in December 2011, at a dinner along with SFA CEO Stewart Regan, where along with Rangers business managers, they discuss a draft statement the CEO had prepared, for clearance by Rangers, in order to answer questions on the granting of the UEFA licence to the club, in spite of their having a tax liability that remains unpaid to this day, and which should have barred them from getting one.
At the time this decision was made in March 2012, Rangers had, in their possession, the letter from their own lawyer, effectively pleading “no contest.” Campbell Ogilvie, who had taken part in setting this scheme up, and surely knew it had involved undisclosed “side letters”, was the head of the licensing organisation that granted one to that club, in those circumstances. The totality of this scandal can only be understood when you fully realise what that means.
The Lord Nimmo Smith verdict has been spun as a “victory for Rangers”. It wasn’t, but nor was it a victory for those who wanted to see the club properly punished for a decade of financial doping. The guilty verdict was supposed to end with restitution being made. Instead, the SPL seems to have already given the club, as Sevco, an assurance that no real punishment would come from it. Add to this the limited scope of the investigation, which excluded an aspect where Rangers were manifestly guilty of more than just failure to register contracts, and which put Ogilvie himself in the frame, and it all supports the feeling that justice itself has been cheated.
There was never going to be a proper resolution here, because the obfuscations, denials and the concealment that had characterised the whole affair was still on-going, as a matter of policy, despite all that had happened. Even under new management, even with much of the secret history exposed, with lawyers picking over the bones, they were still hiding the full facts about what went on.
As a result, we were all lied to. The football authorities were probably lied to. Nimmo Smith himself was certainly misled as to who knew what and when, and he was kept from examining the full scope of the affair he was supposed to get to the bottom of. As such, when men like Ogilvie swore they were not involved, they were telling the truth only because the questions themselves had to be limited in their context. This is a fraud against the whole sport.
It is clear this was not about integrity, and it was not about getting to the truth.
Instead it was Justice Undone.
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