Off the Radar and Off the Hook
Craig Whyte’s acquittal last week has left Rangers fans with the realisation that no one will be held accountable for the death of their club. Andrew Muirhead who writes at Last Ditch Tackle reflects on the saga.
The news that former Rangers owner Craig Whyte walked free from court on Tuesday, was met with a mixture of predictability as well as disgust in the way that the Crown tried the case.
Whyte faced charges of fraud relating to his acquisition of Rangers in May 2011, but after a 31-day trial and 17 witness testimonies at Glasgow High Court, the man once heralded by the Daily Record’s Keith Jackson as a ‘billionaire’ with ‘wealth aff the radar’ walked free from court after being found not guilty on all charges.
Even before the court case started, the Crown’s case began to unravel when the police seizure of legally privileged documents was thrown out by the Court of Appeal – this was following five of the six initial defendants had the charges levied against them dropped, leaving Craig Whyte to face the music by himself.
On top of the Crown case falling apart before the ‘festivities’ kicked off, former Rangers vice-chairman Donald Findlay QC was hired as Whyte’s counsel – a man who was kicked out of the club under David Murray after he was caught on camera singing a sectarian ditty.
Findlay’s summation of the case focused heavily on Murray’s testimony that he would not have sold the club to Whyte if he knew about the deal with Ticketus – selling three years of future season ticket sales in return for a loan, which he used to buy the club from Murray and pay off the £18 million bank debt.
The defence had claimed that Whyte did not have the authority to sell future season tickets, but Findlay described his client as ‘the fall guy’ in the case, when the finger of blame should be pointed in the direction of those who sold the club to Whyte and the way they financially mismanaged the club in the years leading up to the takeover.
The fact that it was admitted during the case that Murray was ‘desperate to sell’ and wipe the bank debt in return for recovering his metals business for £1 from Lloyds Banking Group, proved a huge incentive for the former Rangers owner. Findlay argued, with this incentive dangling in front of him like a carrot, could anyone have any doubt that Murray would have sold the club even if he knew about the ticketus deal?
The club’s lack of due diligence on Craig Whyte and his takeover proposal – especially when ‘third party funding’ appeared in the share purchase agreement added to fuel to the fire that Murray was more interested in getting rid of Rangers to safeguard his metals business.
With the revelation of no due diligence on Whyte being conducted by the club and the declaration of third party funding in the purchase agreement, the Crown’s case folded and they decided to present no further evidence.
Effectively hoisting the white flag and surrendering.
After two hours of deliberation on Tuesday, the jury acquitted Whyte of all charges by a majority and those Rangers fans who had stalked Whyte throughout his appearance at the high court, could only look on heartbroken that their dreams of the ‘fall guy’ being jailed unraveled before them and he walked away scot free.
With Whyte walking from the court a free man on Tuesday, smiling like a Cheshire cat, the fallout from the case will have a lasting legacy on all those who were party to the takeover – none more so than David Murray.
By 2009, the global economic crash left the business empire of the then Rangers owner ‘technically insolvent’ and subsequently forced Rangers to be sold off with the bank breathing down his neck with them having ‘had enough of bankrolling Rangers’.
When the club was sold to Whyte in 2011, the club’s finances according to former Rangers manager Walter Smith, were in a ‘pretty perilous state’ and the lack of investment and development in new talent impact the club on the field. And with the club facing a substantial bill over the ‘Big Tax Case’, former financial director Donald McIntyre admitted that the board discussed putting the club into administration before it was bought by Whyte.
With a flip of a £1 coin across the table in Murray’s offices, the takeover of the club also signaled its inevitable journey to administration and subsequently liquidation less than a year later.
Possible criminal proceedings against current Rangers owner?
During the Whyte case, Findlay objected to a piece of evidence the Crown was trying to bring into court proceedings because: “An individual hacked into Whyte’s computer for purposes of potential blackmail,” before adding: “The material was recovered after a payment from Dave King.”
According to the Byline, current Rangers chairman Dave King paid the hacker around £25,000 for confidential information which had been illegally obtained and subsequently leaked to the press and posted on social media.
The document was never shown to the jury as the presiding judge upheld the objection from Findlay and it is now apparent that there is a ‘live investigation’ into the alleged hacking and potentially King’s payment to obtain said illegal documents, in relation to receiving stolen goods.
The tainted legacy of Rangers under David Murray
The ‘entire business model and practice deployed at Rangers under Murray was to gain as much as an advantage as possible to enable the Ibrox club to compete with and beat Celtic’, according to Celtic Quick News.
In a 22 year period, between 1989 and 2011, Rangers had amassed losses of over £180 million in Murrays pursuit to buy domestic and European glory – the latter always escaping his clutches – helped by funds funnelled through his Murray International Holdings business, loaned to him by friends who held his positions in the Bank of Scotland [prior to Lloyds takeover].
“Murray’s pursuit of success drove the businessman to the doorstep of a lawyer [who subsequently turned to porn as a career] Paul Baxendale-Walker, who organised the club’s Employee Benefit Trust scheme – more commonly known as the EBT scheme. This scheme was effectively tax avoidance as Rangers signed players they would not normally be able to afford – such as the de Boer brothers, Arthur Numan, Claudio Caniggia and Tore Andre Flo. Murray himself profited from the scheme to the tune of £6 million. Former Rangers manager Alex McLeish also admitted during a BBC documentary that without the use of this scheme, they would not have had the ability to compete with Celtic, a clear breach of sporting integrity – despite what Scottish football’s governing bodies said subsequently.”
It was this EBT scheme which led to the club being hit with the ‘small tax case’ and the ‘big tax case’ – the latter is up in front of the Supreme Court after HMRC won the last legal battle with the liquidators of Rangers Football Club, BDO. A potential bill that subsequently forced the club’s creditors to reject a CVA in June 2012 – a move which signaled the liquidation of Rangers.
For all of Murray’s success on the pitch – including equalling Celtic’s nine in a row league titles – his legacy as Rangers owner will forever be tainted by his use of the EBT scheme on the advice of a lawyer-turned-pornstar, the club’s clear breach of sporting integrity and football rules, their willingness to hide their use of EBTs and side letters on player contracts from the authorities, his use of bank loans to fund his pursuit of glory at Ibrox and above all his blatant disregard for the club when he sold it to Whyte in 2011 to safeguard his metals business.
While Whyte will be seen by Rangers fans as the man who killed their club and as the man responsible, Murray and the directors of the club leading up to the takeover have to take a sizeable portion of the blame – if not more.
What makes it even more baffling is that three of the current directors at Rangers – Dave King, Paul Murray, and Alastair Johnston – were members of the same Rangers board that not only financially mismanaged the club to a point where they were already talking about administration but also sold the club to Craig Whyte.
So with Whyte still public enemy number one on these shores in the eyes of Rangers fans and the football authorities, those same authorities seem to be turning a blind eye to the tenure of the current directors of the new Rangers.
The Scottish FA and chief executive Stewart Regan have refused to issue any statement in regards to King’s breach of rules in his own takeover of the club in March 2015 – when he hid his relationship with George Letham, George Taylor and Douglas Park to buy the shares in Rangers assuming control.
Under the Takeover Regulations, any shareholder exceeding the 30 percent threshold must make an offer to other shareholders to buy their shares – even if there is a willingness to do so or not.
King’s subsequent refusal to offer to adhere to the takeover panel’s verdict and offer to buy all shares to the tune of £14 million has forced the panel to go to court to take legal action against the South African-based businessman.
With the Scottish FA looking as if they are happy with Rangers in the clutches of a man who is wilfully breaching laws in this country as well as In South Africa – the calls for Regan’s resignation heightens further.
When Whyte arrived on the scene in 2010 as some dashing Whyte Knight on a charge coming to the rescue of Rangers Football Club, the media lapped up everything that they were told. Just like Rangers, they failed to do any due diligence on the man that was labeled as a ‘billionaire’ and had ‘wealth aff the radar’.
Whyte was to plow tens of millions into the club for then-manager Ally McCoist to strengthen the club on the field further.
But, at the same time as the media were running this narrative, a small group of writers [including myself without blowing my trumpet too much] found that what the media and Whyte were saying was contrary to reality.
Rangers fans were taken in by the articles they were reading by so-called professional journalists who were regurgitating press releases and hand-fed stories as exclusives on Whyte, self-appointed fan reps heralded Whyte’s arrival and labeled anyone investigating or saying anything less than glamorous about their new ‘messiah’ as a ‘Rangers hater’.
Five minutes work on the internet found out the true nature of Craig Whyte, his business background, and his dodgy past. A number of articles later and I was threatened with legal action by Craig Whyte’s lawyers who in emails had labeled me as a ‘Celtic fanatic’, a ‘troublemaker’ and someone to ‘keep an eye on’.
Whyte even had the gall to label me ‘idiot’ over my articles rubbishing the media claims about him and outing his dodgy past.
Whyte also tried to hide all the incriminating ‘digital’ evidence of his past by securing his google history be deleted – including contacting news outlets to remove articles showing him in a negative light. These outlets included the Daily Record, the Daily Telegraph and the Mirror to name but a few.
After nearly seven years I wonder if Hay-McKerron Associates and Carter-Ruck, who acted on behalf of Craig Whyte at the time, would like to come back to me to apologise. I doubt it very much.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but don’t believe the Scottish media’s rewriting of history, claiming they were at the forefront of the story about Whyte, they were as culpable in this whole mess as those who failed to do due diligence at Rangers.
Their u-turn in coverage over the death of Rangers and the end of the club’s history to the ‘same club’ line is just as laughable as their claims about Craig Whyte the billionaire.
Those who should take the plaudits for Whyte’s unmasking are those so-called ‘obsessed Rangers haters’ that called it correctly from day one. Sadly one of those, Paul McConville, is no longer with us – but at least we can look back on his work and say that everything he wrote has now been proven to be accurate without a shadow of a doubt.
Maybe next time a Whyte Knight or a Messiah arrives on our shores heralding the revolution they will bring to the club they intend to buy, maybe just maybe the football authorities, the club in question and the media itself will all do their due diligence on such an individual otherwise we could be faced with another Craig Whyte, Angelo Massone, Vladimir Romanov or Claude Anelka.
But as Moira Gordon of The Scotsman once told me, the media failed to look into Whyte’s past because today’s journalists don’t have the time to do any digging into a person’s background.
That really is a sad indictment of our mainstream media and the work that they produce on a daily basis.