By Nick Harris
SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year
19 February 2012
Craig Whyte, the controversial businessman at the heart of the crisis enveloping Rangers, ignored advice given to him last May about how he could settle some of the club’s disputes with HMRC, Sportingintelligence can reveal.
Rather than follow a plan which might have led to a long-term negotiated settlement between Rangers and the tax man, Whyte instead opted to compound the club’s troubles by withholding up to £9m of tax and VAT due over the past nine months.
This led to the appointment of administrators last Tuesday, and sources with inside knowledge of the work being done by Duff & Phelps at Ibrox have confirmed Whyte now has ‘important questions to answer’ about his conduct.
The advice given to Whyte in May last year about settling with the tax man was provided by David Grier, a Duff & Phelps partner.
A well-placed source insists Grier was acting not solely for Whyte at the time but as an agreed conduit between HMRC and Whyte, and put proposals to Whyte to clear up Rangers’ tax mess that were ignored.
Countering suggestions that there is a serious conflict of interest now in Duff & Phelps being Rangers’ administrators – when theoretically Grier could be perceived as part of the ‘Whyte team’ behind the current mess – a spokesman for Duff & Phelps has told Sportingintelligence that ‘it is categorically not the case’ that Grier had any involvement in:
- any plan for Rangers not to pay employees tax and VAT for nine months.
- any plan that involved a future administration to shed deliberately amassed tax liabilities.
- any plan that misled anyone about how Whyte had funded his takeover, particularly the payment of £18m to Lloyds bank.
Sportingintelligence can reveal that Duff & Phelps have already received at least six expressions of interest in the club, and a spokesman has told us: ‘We will begin the process of looking at them in greater detail in the week ahead.’
It is thought those expressions of interest come from a variety of groups in Scotland, elsewhere in Britain and from abroad, including North America.
Duff & Phelps are also trying to establish exactly how Whyte funded the £18m to Lloyds and whether, as many suspect, he used some of the £24.4m gained from Ticketus for the sale of a portion of Rangers tickets for the next four years.
The future of Rangers is unlikely to be settled without an acrimonious struggle for control, with Whyte likely to be claiming to be a major creditor, which he is believed to think puts him in control. Any such claims are likely to be challenged.
It is understood Whyte led various advisors to believe he paid Lloyds with £18m cash from his own private resources, something that still cannot be verified but seems increasingly doubtful.
Duff & Phelps’ investigation is one of up to four separate probes in the Rangers situation.
The SFA are looking at whether Whyte misled them over being a ‘fit and proper person’ and are conducting an independent review of the whole matter.
The police and Crown Office are considering their next moves with the possibility that a criminal investigation could follow.
Whyte’s spokesman insists he will co-operate with all investigations and is confident he will be cleared of any wrong-doing, but the prospect of Whyte regaining control at Rangers, post-administration, ‘is not a scenario currently looking like a favourite’ according to one source.
Rangers were docked 10 points for entering administration and then their week got worse on Saturday when they lost 1-0 at home to Kilmarnock.