The collapse of Rangers should never have happened, former owner Sir David Murray has claimed.
Breaking his silence over the tax tribunal ruling which cleared the oldco Rangers of making £47.6 million of illegal payments to employees, Sir David told The Herald: "Nobody has won, there is no point in me waving a big flag and saying we have won – Rangers has been destroyed."
The former chairman, who sold Rangers to Craig Whyte for £1 in May last year, said the handling of the case by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) had not only killed Rangers but had raised serious questions about the publicity surrounding the case.
"There is going to be a lot of litigation now because the leakage on this is frightening," Sir David said, adding that his Murray International Holdings (MIH) group had copies of emails which demonstrated the leaking of confidential details.
MIH has instructed its lawyers to review reports of the case in printed media and on the internet. It said: "While MIH has at all times respected the privacy of the tax tribunal proceedings, a substantial quantity of confidential information relating to the case has become available for public consumption, stimulating considerable discussion and often ill-informed debate. This has been wholly inappropriate and outwith the fundamental principles of natural justice."
Sir David was alleged to have been the biggest beneficiary of the Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs) set up by Rangers. He received £6.3m of tax-free income over nine years, an award-winning BBC Scotland documentary claimed.
Sir David said: "What I find amazing is we were guilty until proven innocent. This is the only case in history where awards were given to TV programmes when there hasn't even been a result. But I need to stand back at the moment, this is not a time for triumphalism because nobody has won, the taxpayer hasn't won and Rangers hasn't won. This should never have happened."
Sir David confirmed MIH had offered HMRC an out-of-court settlement two years ago worth more than £10m. He said: "The amount of time, effort and fees could be seven to eight million quid on top of that. Clearly if that had happened we would not have ended up with Craig Whyte.
"The biggest question is why the Revenue knew in August 2011 that Craig Whyte wasn't paying national insurance and tax but didn't put him down – this has so many ramifications for business."
The EBTs were awarded to players as a top-up to their salaries but the HMRC tribunal ruled the payments did not break tax law as they were made in the form of a loan.
Speculation has been mounting that HMRC could now pursue individual players and club figures for payback. Mark Houston, a partner at Johnston Carmichael Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers in Edinburgh, said HMRC would have no remit to do so – unless it successfully appealed the tribunal decision.
Mr Houston said: "The tribunal has ruled that Rangers is not liable for tax on the payments made under EBT on the basis that the payments were loans and not earnings. That effectively closes the door on HMRC being able to go after players."
BDO, the liquidators of Rangers oldco, which is officially known as RFC 2012 Plc, could have the power to pursue the unpaid loans given it was club cash that financed the trust. A spokesman said: "The Joint Interim Liquidators are reviewing the tribunal's decision closely so as to determine the impact on the liquidation of RFC 2012 Plc".
Charles Green, Rangers chief executive , said the tribunal decision undermined the validity of the SPL's own independent commission into the use of EBTs. It will go ahead early next year with a number of EBT issues over and above those heard by the HMRC tribunal to be examined. If the commission finds the club broke SPL rules on staff payments, Rangers could be stripped of a number of SPL and Scottish Cup titles.
Mark Dingwall, spokesman for Rangers Supporters' Trust, said: "The biggest thing is it [the HMRC ruling] blows the SPL's attempts to strip titles from Rangers out of the water. The SPL tribunal should be disbanded immediately."
HMRC said it was considering its next course of action.
Meanwhile, Hearts accused the HMRC and other individuals or groups of hampering the club's battle for survival as the club's share issue reached £600,000 in under a month, one-third of the way to its £1.79m target.