Rangers fined; No titles stripped
Oldco Rangers escaped with their 54 titles intact after an independent commission ruled that undisclosed payments to dozens of players did not give them a "sporting advantage".
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Judge Lord Nimmo Smith and two QCs, who were appointed by the Scottish Premier League in August last year, found the club guilty of rule breaches stretching from 2000 to 2011 and issued a £250,000 fine.
But with the oldco club in liquidation, and the newco club not held responsible, the punishment is effectively meaningless.
The commission stated that the failure to disclose payments did not render players' registrations with the Scottish Football Association void and so they were eligible to play in the SPL.
The written verdict brought to an end a year-long probe which some thought would result in the ultimate sanction of being stripped of titles if found guilty, but recriminations continued.
Former Rangers chairman Sir David Murray, whose company set up the Employee Benefit Trust scheme at the centre of the payments, accused the SPL of a "retrospective witch hunt".
Charles Green, the chief executive of the new Ibrox regime, declared the decision vindicated his approach to negotiations over transferring the club's SFA membership last summer, which he claims included attempts to persuade him to give up the five SPL titles Rangers won during the affected period.
The three-man commission, which also comprised QCs Nicholas Stewart and Charles Flint, found that Rangers entered into side-letter arrangements which should have been disclosed to the football authorities.
The commission statement read: "Although the payments in this case were not themselves irregular and were not in breach of SPL or SFA rules, the scale and extent of the proven contraventions of the disclosure rules require a substantial penalty to be imposed."
The EBT payments were the subject of a tax tribunal which oldco Rangers won in principle in November last year, although Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs have launched an appeal.
The commission concluded it was clear that the "deliberate" non-disclosure was "at least partly motivated by a wish not to risk prejudicing the tax advantages of the EBT scheme".
But they concluded no sporting advantage was gained, partly because of the tax tribunal's findings that the arrangements "did not give rise to payments absolutely or unreservedly held for or to the order of the individual players".
The statement added: "On that basis, the EBT arrangements could have been disclosed as contractual arrangements giving rise to a facility for the player to receive loans, and there would have been no breach of the disclosure rules."
However, the commission stated that the assumption that the undisclosed arrangements were discretionary and did not form part of any player's contractual entitlement, was "seriously misconceived".
And they took a serious view of a breach of rules intended to promote "sporting integrity" and prevent financial irregularities, while noting the extent of the payments - more than £9million was paid to employees through EBTs in the 2005-06 season alone.
They also found no evidence that the Ibrox board had taken any expert advice as to whether disclosure would have affected their tax liability.
Crucial evidence came from SFA registrations head Sandy Bryson, who said a player remained registered even if there had been a breach of registration procedures.
The commission said: "All parties concerned - clubs, players and footballing authorities - should be able to proceed on the faith of an official register. This means that a player's registration should generally be treated as standing unless and until revoked.
"There may be extreme cases in which there is such a fundamental defect that the registration of a player must be treated as having been invalid from the outset.
"But in the kind of situation that we are dealing with here we are satisfied that the registration of the specified players with the SPL was valid from the outset, and accordingly that they were eligible to play in official matches."
The lengthy process was begun by the SPL on March 5, before Rangers were consigned to liquidation and were relaunched as a new company by Green.
But Green is looking for answers over last summer's negotiations with the SFA and SPL.
He said: "It is a matter of fact that people within the SPL wanted me, at first, to surrender titles as part of a deal to enable Rangers to play again as a member of the SFA.
"I rejected and resisted that suggestion and today's decision vindicates the position of the board and the supporters."
Murray argued that the money given to players should not have been construed as payments as they were technically loans, but declared himself satisfied with the decision not to strip titles.
However he claimed "efforts to bayonet the wounded" were of no benefit to Scottish football and described the fine as "futile".
Rangers manager Ally McCoist echoed his former employer's comments.
He told STV on Thursday night: "I think a lot of people, particularly the SPL member clubs, have gone in not knowing what they were trying to achieve.
"There's been a lot of hard work, time and finance gone into this. Perhaps a lot of people will look back and see it was needless."
The SPL said little other than to stress the independence of the commission.