Oldco Rangers escaped with their 54 titles intact yesterday after an independent commission ruled that undisclosed payments to dozens of players did not give them a “sporting advantage”.
Judge Lord Nimmo Smith and two QCs, who were appointed by the Scottish Premier League (SPL) in August last year, found the club guilty of rule breaches stretching from 2000 to 2011 and issued a £250,000 (€290,300) 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 FA 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 David Murray, whose company set up the Employee Benefit Trust (EBT) 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 found that Rangers entered into side-letter arrangements which should have been disclosed to the 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 the British tax authority has 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”.
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