Crimes, Capers & Panama Papers

dermot-desmond-moriarty-tribunals-752x501I get a lot of stuff in my inbox, as you can well imagine.

Some of it is ridiculous. Some of it is so bad it’s almost sublime.

One such email came through just yesterday and in it the writer regaled me with his warped view that I am a hypocrite for “ignoring the biggest story in Scottish football today”. He even shared with me some details, in case it had passed me by.

This was, of course, a reference to The Panama Papers, one of the biggest data leaks in history, revealing the details of the super-wealthy and their offshore tax avoidance schemes. This scandal has already brought down the governments of Brazil and Iceland. This time last week it had David Cameron teetering on the brink.

Amidst those papers was a certain name.

It was Dermot Desmond, of course, and my correspondent thought that this was somehow a stain on the image of Celtic and Scottish football, not to mention a heinous crime against society for which restitution had to be made.

These people are barmy. We all know that. Moments like this help to remind us that they’re also stupid, and it’s important that we remember that going forward. These goofy fools have spent years looking for the “smoking gun” that will prove to the world that Celtic is as corrupt as their club used to be and which their NewCo still is.

They’ve looked into land deals which go nowhere and bank loans which show nothing and relationships which don’t prove anything other than that Celtic has enormous clout and the respect of many people in many different fields, including politics, big business, banking and other areas where Sevco’s gore flaked fingers can’t reach.

I try to imagine the joy some of them must have felt on hearing the news that our majority shareholder was “caught up” in this. This would, if proved, be the catalyst for our total disaster. It was all too easy, in their fevered, febrile, minds to imagine Desmond being hounded by the tax authorities until his business empire collapsed, and the crippling debts drowned Celtic in a sea of red ink.

Everything would follow on from there; a global call-out for buyers to save us. None would come. A hastily put together attempt at a “pennies in the pound” CVA. Which would be refused. The SFA being faced with a world without Celtic. They would want to find us a safe berth. (Why do I doubt that?) But Sevco, newly powerful, would use every bit of its influence to relegate us to the bottom division. Our club would be judged dead until someone bought the bits. Somehow those bits wouldn’t include the history. (Yes, it would be interesting to watch them have to try and square that circle). We would end up scrambling our way up from the dust, weak, humiliated, to know how they felt.

You can see how this would unfold in their heads, and we know it would go just so because they’ve spent so long during the pursuit of the “state aid” case sharing their fantasies with those of us who needed a good laugh. Always it went something like that, the uncovering of some fact, some evidence, some shattering secret and then the domino effect that brought it all down.

Amazing, isn’t it?

The people who couldn’t find out Craig Whyte was a dodgy geezer, even after we’d shown them the paper trail and it had been on the BBC … suddenly they are super-sleuths, digging into public records and finding out secrets.

Except, as with the state aid “investigation” and the one involving the Co-Operative Bank, there really isn’t a hell of a lot to see here.

For one thing, there’s no suggestion – none whatsoever – that Dermot Desmond has violated any laws. It’s not even clear that what he did involved money. Oh I have no doubt whatsoever that Dermot Desmond is fully acquainted with tax avoidance mechanisms galore, but this particularly case doesn’t seem to involve cash, which one wouldn’t expect from a scandal with a guy who’s wealth is in the actual (as opposed to imaginary) billions.

In fact, all the Papers seem to “accuse” him of is being represented by a law firm, and having his name in some of their leaked documents. Not exactly the crime of the century, or indeed a crime at all if we’re being straight to the point.

Desmond and his business history has long been the focus of the Peepul and their Goon Squad.

They reference many issues in his past, appearances in front of tribunals and Law Lords almost beyond count. But every businessman of his means has those trials to endure. Not once have they demonstrated any skulduggery, although they allege plenty of it. They are lucky he doesn’t bother with internet tittle-tattle, or one suspects they’d be on the fat end of a very big libel lawsuit.

But still, these off-base nutjobs continue to look for some evidence that will cast doubt on him, and therefore cast some sort of cloud over Celtic. They never stop looking but never seem to find anything, and I know it frustrates them immensely.

Their latest accusation is that our club’s good work in Haiti is somehow linked to the Clinton Foundation … that’s right, to the charitable organisation run by the ex-President of the United States and his wife, the former US Senator and current Secretary of State and the presumptive nominee for the Democratic Party in November.

And what’s wrong with that?

Well, according to these geniuses that Foundation is mired in scandal.

What kind of scandal?

Who the Hell knows what goes on in their tiny minds, but it’s apparently not a big enough scandal for the US press and the Republican Party, who, you’d think, have got to be looking for this kind of stuff. Maybe the Sevco Brains Trust really has gone where they won’t, but knowing a little about this subject it’s hard for me to believe. The Clinton’s have only been at the sharp end of US politics for thirty years, and in that time people have been looking. Some of them haven’t stopped. If Karl Rove didn’t find the killer fact, Chris Graham ain’t gonna.

Not that any of it matters, because it’s all smoke to distract from the real crooks and we didn’t need a leak like The Panama Papers to know who they are.

There’s David Murray for one, a peer of the realm, whose companies were wound up earlier this month owing £200 million and upwards. The glib press release that went out in accordance with this said the bank was the “sole creditor” which is all nice and neat except the bank was, until recently, owned by the tax payer.

And this is why none of my correspondent’s ridiculous email stands up even to the most minor scrutiny and why it doesn’t amount to a scandal no matter how much he wishes it did.

For starters, Dermot Desmond is domiciled in Ireland.

His tax affairs are a matter between him and the Irish government, as Dave King’s were between him and the government of South Africa, and whilst Desmond might make the most of the legal framework which exists to stop any rich individual paying their share there’s nothing to suggest he’s considered a crook by the tax authorities at home.

The same cannot be said for the current Sevco chairman.

So there is no criminality involved in what Desmond has done, and where the tax payer gets a raw deal is something for the Irish government to sort out. It doesn’t make him an improper person to sit on the board of Celtic, and it doesn’t cost UK taxpayers a dime.

King has criminal convictions.

Murray quite literally built his club with money that belonged in your pockets and mine.

Even a complete fool sees the differences between these people.

And in case it needs further spelling out, here’s where the argument really falls on its fat, lazy arse.

Celtic was neither built with, nor depends on, the largesse of Desmond or anyone else. So even if there was a smoking gun out there … it wouldn’t impact on our club one bit.

Desmond is our majority shareholder. That’s all. He’s not a sugar daddy. We are a self-sufficient club. We don’t need him to pay our bills as they come due. Not a penny of the cash Desmond makes from his other businesses flows into Celtic Park.

Our club’s money is clean. Our foundations are not built on debt dumping or screwing over the taxman and, by default, the taxpayer.

I don’t like Dermot Desmond. I don’t like his attitude, the way he influences policy at Celtic Park and I don’t particularly like the people he’s helped pick to run the club. I think he, and some of them, are a stain on our reputation. I wish he’d pack his pencils and beat it, selling his shares to someone who gives a damn and doesn’t see them as a vanity purchase.

I don’t want his money and I never have.

What’s more, I don’t like any of these rich, greedy bastards who don’t want to pay their share when all around us cuts are being made to important public services both here and abroad. The Daily Record published an article today on how the taxman is chasing former players at Celtic and Rangers, as well as at least one who’s odds-on to play in Sunday’s game with Sevco.

What does Jackson expect us to say about that? If these people tried to dodge tax then they deserve everything they get regardless of the shirt they wear or wore. All these people ought to be brought to book, no matter who, no matter where.

But that wasn’t my correspondents point.

His point was that Desmond’s name was in those papers and that was as good as Celtic’s name being in there.

He wasn’t interested in taxpayers in Ireland or here.

He wasn’t concerned with debtors or creditors or the little guy being stiffed by the one who could afford the high priced lawyers.

What individuals do is up to them, and Hell mend them when Hector comes calling.

But Celtic has nothing whatsoever to do with any of it.

This was about one-upsmanship and our football club, and HMRC can chase whomever they want but the football club itself has kept clean, and it’s played by the rules, and it has met its responsibilities both to the football governing bodies and to wider society. It has accepted lean years and bad results because the alternative was to in some way cheat, whether that was financial doping or the bending of rules.

Our club wasn’t built on credit, or defrauding the taxman, it wasn’t sunk by debts. Nor was it like their NewCo, born in disgrace, from the shattered remains of a fraud, founded by men of highly questionable character, and which is now run by a crook.

I told my correspondent all of this, of course.

You know what he said?

He said tax fraud wasn’t a real scandal and then went on to reference … Hell, you all know what he went on to reference.

There’s something wrong with these people, don’t you think?

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Celtic, Bloggers & A Bankrupt Media Culture

CHINA-KENYA-AFRICA-MEDIA-NEWSPAPERRecently I’ve taken to closely watching the media’s falling circulation numbers.

There are a few people in Celtic cyberspace who’ve been watching those for a while, in particular the Scottish Football Monitor guys and some of the folks over at CQN.

Some of them publish the numbers every so often, and they’re all showing the old media in steady decline.

Paul67 over at CQN mourns this in a way, and says we’ll always need the media with their resources and the few diligent reporters who are capable of tackling a big story.

I agree with him, and there are some outstanding examples of what he means.

One of the best pieces of journalism I’ve seen in the last couple of years came from the BBC not long ago; it was Mark Daly’s magnificent and game changing investigation into doping in professional athletics. It was courageous and devastating.

It was a sensational example of the media doing what it is supposed to do.

We definitely need more of that.

Daly, of course, has been on our radar for a while.

He was the front man for the equally astonishing BBC documentary on Rangers “The Men Who Sold The Jerseys”, which their fans should have applauded for the way it dug into things the hacks hadn’t bothered with.

Of course, in the end they went hysterical, started their campaign against the BBC and that sowed the seeds for the recent ban on Chris McLaughlin.

Daly is at one end of the scale, the high end, that which sees journalists go out and find the news. That’s a small number of top quality operators doing the kind of work we’ll always need them to do, and which makes their profession shine.

Alex Thomson is another of them, and it’s really Alex I want to talk about here.

I read his recent article, on football teams banning journalists, with great interest, in particular as he chose to highlight Celtic in the piece.

I want to take issue with him on some of it.

For a start, because Alex of all people should know better.

He’s been up here to cover stuff they either missed or didn’t want to.

He knows what most of our hacks are worth.

He knows the ranks up here are filled with those who indulge in sensationalism and creating controversy where there is none.

Worse, it is populated with a more dangerous sort, those who write soup stirring, provocative nonsense.

Those people are an affront to journalism, an embarrassment to a profession which needs more people like him in it and less of them.

He is a real journalist, the kind who believes the calling is still sacred, that it’s still relevant and that it’s still important.

The problem, as he well knows, is that these people fall far below that standard.

I remember him going onto Radio Clyde and castigating the hacks for their failures in getting to the bottom of the Rangers story.

I remember him writing that it was not simply incompetence, but actually a media culture that exists up here whereby whatever comes out of Ibrox is all too often simply accepted without question.

He understands the “succulent lamb” culture very well.

He knows that’s how it works in Scotland, a country that for too long took way too seriously the pretensions and “cultural aspirations” of what the rampant egotist Murray called “the second biggest institution after the church.”

But you have to actually live here, and cover the media full time, which in a sense is what I now do, to truly understand there’s more to it than just that.

Take the John Collins thing that has filled the papers over the last week, pouring unrelenting negativity onto Celtic Football Club and its assistant manager.

This is a fine example of why our club has banned hacks in the past.

It is a complete non-story, blown up into something more by a media that creates these little dramas for its own ends.

At the same time, they’ve been endlessly promoting the line that Scottish football is basically worthless without a club called Rangers in the top flight for the last couple of years.

To look over their coverage during the period in which the future of our sport itself was up for grabs, when the SPL and SFA CEO’s wanted Sevco in the top flight, is to glimpse a world where this game only had two teams, and without them our sport was dead.

They know they are hypocrites.

That’s not the point.

The Collins furore was nothing more than an exercise in slapping Celtic and the same people who are stirring this soup have spent the last month trying to destabilise Scott Allan’s relationship with his own club and get him a move to his “boyhood heroes” (who he’s already spurned two chances to join) at Ibrox.

Today those same hacks claim Celtic are in the running for his signature, and a couple of them have suggested that this is “mischief making” on our part, as if we’re in the habit of spending six figure sums of money for the purposes of one-upsmanship … an idea so preposterous that I would be in the carpark with a Board Out banner if I thought it was even remotely true.

Some of these guys are very obviously working hand in hand with PR companies too and if those PR companies happen to have very clear, historical, leanings towards a certain Scottish football club … well that neither seems to bother the hacks or their bosses.

In fact, when said club was trying to sell season tickets last month some of the hacks were only too pleased to help … and a PR firm publicly thanked them for it in the aftermath.

It’s wee things like this that bother a lot of neutrals, and definitely Celtic fans.

And it ought to bother Thomson more than it does, because this isn’t what their profession is supposed to do. In fact, it debases what it exists for.

So for the record, I have no problem with our club banning people who can’t report accurately or fairly and who routinely bang the drum for PR firms and their clients instead of doing the news.

Thomson himself is still allowed at Celtic Park having once compared us to Millwall, and people like English, Spiers and others are perfectly welcome despite their own articles criticising transfer policy, team selection, managerial decisions and much else.

I don’t have a problem with those kind of articles and neither does Celtic.

Those are simply reporters doing their jobs, and giving their opinions, and even if those opinions are thoroughly barking – like Spiers today, and his “mischief making” headline in relation to the Allan saga – by and large I don’t mind them.

Our club is not anti-journalism.

It’s simply not prepared to put up with constant abuse and the twisting of the truth.

Truth. You know, that thing the whole profession used to strive for?

Negativity day on day, just for the sake of it, or to try and unsettle our club … that’s not journalism. As far as I’m concerned that’s an abuse of responsibility and not something we should be allowing from our front room.

Thomson was, of course, writing in the aftermath of Sevco’s decision to ban Spiers and Chris McLaughlin of the BBC. Where he went wrong was in falling into a famous Scottish sports journalist trap; in the interests of trying to find “balance” he equated our decision to ban Keevins last year with what happened at Ibrox, when there’s no similarity between the two.

Keevins’ brand of hackery is a discredited joke, and Celtic’s decision not to credential him for matches simply freed up a seat in the press area for a real journalist.

No-one should be mourning that, or questioning why Celtic did it.

The reasons for it – including a blatantly untrue story relating to Sean Fallon’s 90th birthday – are well known and have been explored here and elsewhere at length already.

The reasons why Sevco banned two journalists a couple of weeks ago are also well known, and they were exactly the kind of attacks on free speech that Thomson has been seeking to highlight in his piece.

He says Celtic’s bans harmed the club … actually the individuals we banned harm his profession and its standing and that offered an alibi to people like Dave King when he decided he was going to go on a crusade against probing questions.

The problem here is that the media has a tendency to protect all of its people, all of the time, as if an attack on one was an attack on all of them … utter nonsense as he doubtless knows.

Too many people hide behind a press card when they want to go off on one, using the concept of “journalistic freedom” to justify agenda based attacks and sensationalism.

A lot of members of that profession come to their aid and lend them support reflexively, instead of considering whether or not their behaviour is suspect.

I’ve looked into getting my NUJ card and so I know they have guidelines, rules and regulations on professionalism, honesty and integrity.

I’m not suggesting they start weeding people out if they devalue those concepts, but everyone knows that a lot of people in the profession have signed the paperwork and then paid lip service to those ideals.

It was Truman Capote who said “The problem with living outside the law is that you no longer have its protection”.

When journalists go off the reservation and start pursing wee personal vendettas and acting as the PR wing for certain institutions that ought to end all discussion of offering them the protections that go with freedom of the press.

Those protections exist to promote the telling of hard truth, and tackling abuse of power; they are not there to give a shield to those who sensationalise and lie.

What I’m saying is that I would have no problem whatsoever with what Thomson wrote if his own profession was more equipped to deal with those who disgrace it rather than waiting for other people to do it and then getting defensive.

Phil Mac Giolla Bháin has echoed exactly the sort of sentiments Thomson recently did, and has called the banning of journalists “the road to succulent lamb.”

He worries that it will lead to the press developing an unhealthy relationship with our own club, in due course, which prevents fans from getting to the truth about what we’re up to.

I understand the sentiment, but I don’t think it’s likely.

Because whereas Paul67 is right that the media will always be needed to do the job of chasing the stories the bloggers can’t, we are becoming very skilled in our own way and we’re perfectly capable of taking our own clubs to task when it comes time to do that.

It was the bloggers who blew open the biggest story in the history of Scottish sport. RTC and other sites were there well ahead of the mainstream press, including Mark Daly and the BBC. Where his documentary proved useful was in holding a megaphone to work done elsewhere, amplifying the volume a thousand times, to a national audience we weren’t able to reach.

He made it a mainstream story rather than one on the fringes.

But the gap between the mainstream and those fringes has blurred of late, and the number of hacks and former hacks now on Twitter and in the blogosphere increases our visibility every single day, because aside from name recognition we’re all on the same playing field.

And holding our own clubs to account is part of that now.

For myself, I’ve tried to tell the truth as I see it. I’ve probably got the facts wrong on a couple of occasions, but I never set out to deliberately mislead … which is the difference.

On top of that, I’ve never been particularly bothered about who my stuff annoyed.

I have criticised Celtic – venomously – on any number of occasions, and whereas a lot of the Celtic blogs and their writers have been invited to Parkhead for tea and biscuits I never have and frankly I never expect to be.

And this is not me complaining or saying those guys go easy on the club; I know a lot of them well and they are nobody’s lackies or puppets.

It’s just that some people at Celtic Park see some value in opening dialogue with them and that’s pointless as far as it goes with me, although I understand that a good relationship between the blogs and the club is valuable.

But I self-exile myself from Celtic Park in light of how strong my views are and, speaking personally, I prefer it this way for the moment as it allows me the benefit of distance and detachment and I feel more comfortable with that.

For all that, I bear the club no ill will as a consequence of my position, because it is a personal choice, and I feel pretty sure that if I were to open that dialogue myself that the club would be happy to extend me an invite to talk on the same basis as the rest.

In short, I do not believe Celtic is in the business of censorship. Phil has little to worry about in that regard, and that’s where I think Alex Thomson was 100% wrong to base much of his article on that proposition.

The truth is that there are people inside Celtic Park who simply will not tolerate day on day attacks on them and the club itself.

Speaking as someone who defends free speech in a way the club doesn’t believe in – the right of our supporters to sing Republican songs and fly their political banners for example – I cannot fault them for taking a hard-line position on certain hacks.

What’s more, Keevins and others were not encumbered in any way by the ban; it was symbolism and nothing more, but symbolism has its importance.

They themselves boasted that it had no impact beyond that; they were able to continue writing whatever they liked. Celtic was not impacting on their ability to make a living or carry out their duties.

They just weren’t allowed to do it from soft seats in the stand, provided to them free of charge.

Sevco’s decision to ban Chris McLaughlin and Graham Spiers, and perhaps others in due course, is different, and it is ludicrous because it is very clearly an attempt at censorship.

Celtic, to my knowledge, never publicised the bans on Keevins, Jackson and others.

They didn’t use those bans as explicit warnings to the rest of the press pack to start toeing the line.

Sevco, on the other hand, went out of their way to make their position public, and their supporters groups were happy to throw their two bobs worth into the discussion for good measure.

What’s more, they were very clear on the reasons for the action.

They didn’t like the journalists involved writing stories that put them in a bad light.

They make no bones about that, or what the objective is.

You have to give them credit for being brazen if nothing else.

It was clearly a move designed to intimidate those who were perhaps starting to ask some long overdue questions, or who were, in McLaughlin’s case, drawing attention to serious, inherent, problems those in the boardroom ignored the last time they were there and would rather pretend weren’t still affecting the club today.

They are gleeful about this on the Sevco forums, where they have learned nothing from recent years when PR companies sold them on Craig Whyte, Charles Green and others and are now feeding them from the same dirty spoons a feast of the same from Dave King.

Alex Thomson chose to focus the bulk of his article on effect, not on cause. His effort to find balance equated one with the other, when they are not alike at all.

There are good journalists out there, those who are in the profession to “do the news”, those who want to uncover the things those in power would rather remained secret, those who are doing the best they can to see that facts and truth come to light.

We will always need them, and those of us who care about the profession and about the truth itself will always have their back.

One of my heroes of the last twelve months is a guy whose opinions and mine could not be more diametrically opposed – Peter Oborne, formerly of The Telegraph – who resigned from his job because of what his newspaper had become; little more than an advertising board, with editorial content skewed accordingly.

Because this isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing with what we read day after day. Intellectual integrity is about respecting differing opinions and even bending some ways towards them.

All we want to know for sure is that our press is well informed, and well intentioned, and that its output is not simply constructed to further agendas or deceive the readers.

As the media appears unable to self-police – and you only need to look at the political writers in Westminster to see how unlikely that is to change – then, sadly for us all, other institutions will have to take a stand against shoddy journalism and the manufacturing of controversy for its own sake, not to mention the dissemination of lies.

It’s all very well for Alex Thomson to point to legal recourse as the way to get justice, but you need very deep pockets and to be in it for the long haul to pursue that avenue, as he knows full well, and the best you can hope for in the bulk of those cases, after you’ve paid lawyers’ fees and court expenses is a short apology on page 51.

Not good enough. Nowhere near it.

Too much of Scotland’s sports coverage is slanted, biased and ignorant.

Some writers even manage to slap together pieces that are a combination of all three.

Not everyone involved in the media here has noble intentions or pursues the higher goals for which the profession exists. Wild egotism, bias and self-interest are rampant.

A press card doesn’t come with a halo, and even if it did there are some who would wear it well and still perform the Devil’s work.

That is an offense against all of us and the media shouldn’t expect that we will simply sit back and take it.

Those days are over with, forever.

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