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New fears over past of brothers trying to join Rangers board

RANGERS are being urged to conduct greater background checks on potential board members after fresh details emerged of the troubled past of two brothers who last week signalled their intention to join the board.

Behind Ally McCoist at Ibrox last month are, left to right, Rangers head of football administration Andrew Dickson, James Easdale, Charles Green and Sandy Easdale. Far left, Charles Green, and  left, Craig Whyte
Behind Ally McCoist at Ibrox last month are, left to right, Rangers head of football administration Andrew Dickson, James Easdale, Charles Green and Sandy Easdale. Far left, Charles Green, and left, Craig Whyte

Former Rangers chief executive Charles Green is intending to sell his shares – worth nearly 8% of the club – to James and Sandy Easdale.

In an interview last week with the BBC, Sandy Easdale said: "We took a decision to invest in the club. It is very hard to comment but we are serious about taking it forward.

"We have a delicate deal that when shares are available, we will purchase them. Other shares are an option to us and that is growing stronger."

James Easdale added: "A presence on the board is something we would be seeking in the mid-term."

Although it is widely known that Sandy was jailed in 1997 for VAT-related offences, files from the National Records Office and Registers of Scotland give a more detailed account of the Easdale family's problems during this period.

They reveal:

l Both brothers were initially charged with VAT-related offences, although the case against James was dropped.

l Both were blocked from disposing of their assets as part of the probe by Customs & Excise.

lSandy was jailed after police found £45,000 in a carrier bag behind his settee.

The Ibrox club has had a torrid time in recent years with colourful tycoons. After Monaco-based businessman Craig Whyte bought the club in 2011, it was revealed that he had previously been disqualified as a director.

Green stood down as Rangers' chief executive after fears were expressed about his relationship with Whyte.

There is now a strong appetite among Rangers fan for the club to perform greater due diligence than has been the case.

Andy Kerr, spokesman for the Rangers Supporters Assembly, said: "Greater checks have to be made regarding potential board members, as the past 18 months do not read well.

"It is really important to go forward with a clean slate, devoid of potential sideshows.

"The last thing we want to do is perpetuate the problems of the recent past. It is essential that the board is very circumspect about people coming in. We need to be aware about any skeletons as early as possible."

The Easdale brothers were born three years apart, Sandy in 1968 and James in 1971. Raised in Greenock, the pair had various business interests in the licensed trade and scrap-metal industries in the 1990s.

However, Customs & Excise pursued the duo in early 1996 over VAT-related issues.

In February of that year, a judge in England's High Court of Justice imposed a "restraint order" on the brothers, which had the effect of blocking them from disposing of their assets. The petitions, lodged by Customs & Excise, stated the pair had each been charged with an offence relating to VAT legislation from 1994.

In January 1997, the order banning James from selling or dealing with his assets was discharged because proceedings against him had ended due to "no evidence being offered by the prosecution".

By contrast, Sandy pled guilty at Croydon Crown Court and was sentenced to 27 months.

Within weeks, James applied to the Inverclyde Licensing Board for his jailed brother's pub licence to be transferred to him. The board turned down the request after the police objected. In its "statement of reasons", the board provided more details of Sandy's crime: "The offences involved the sale of computer components under forged invoices which showed that IBM had supplied the components to a company called ****** which was owned by Alexander Easdale's co-accused J**** G*****."

"The true supplier of the components was Alexander Easdale."

It continued: "Customs & Excise had carried out surveillance at Mr Easdale's house and at the scrap-metal yard owned by him and packages had been observed being loaded into a hired car.

"When Mr Easdale was arrested a carrier bag containing £45,000 in English notes was found behind the settee in his house and this was money which had been withdrawn the previous day by Mr G***** from an English bank."

"Substantial amounts of computer components were found within Mr Easdale's scrap-metal yard."

On the transfer application, the board referred to evidence from the police: "He [the chief superintendent] pointed out that James Easdale was the brother and business partner of Sandy Easdale and the premises had been purchased by them as partners.

"The partnership still existed and it was the view of the police that if the transfer were to be granted, then Alexander Easdale would still derive benefit from the management of the premises."

This point was disputed at the time by James Easdale's lawyer, who said the brothers' partnership only existed because the older sibling was restricted from disposing of his assets. The statement also noted: "James and Alexander Easdale are members of the same family but Alexander Easdale's career as a businessman was now on hold for a long number of years and possibly forever."

However, the new millenium signalled the beginning of a fresh start for the brothers.

Since then, the pair have built up the successful McGill's bus firm in Greenock, which has a turnover of around £15 million.

In 2010, an inquiry was concluded into McGill's service irregularities. In her report, the Traffic Commissioner for Scotland fined the company for lapses, but she also defended the Easdales.

She said: "I have no evidence any of the Easdales are engaged in any criminal activities; no evidence of money laundering; no evidence of drug dealing, or of harassment, or of threatening public officials."

She added: "There is Mr Sandy Easdale's conviction, which was very serious indeed and merited a hefty sentence, but he is over a decade on from that and there is no evidence of recidivism or other offending."

The only hiccup for Sandy Easdale since his release from prison was in 2001, when the Advocate General for Scotland granted an inhibition against him. This action related to a dispute with the Inland Revenue over nearly £54,000. The inhibition was discharged 10 months later.

Although shares' transactions are a matter between buyer and seller, SFA rules dictate that board members of football clubs must satisfy a "fit and proper" person test.

Glasgow North West Labour MP John Robertson told the Sunday Herald he would want more reassurance about the character of businessmen joining the board. He said: "I would like to hear someone like Walter Smith, who is respected among the fans, say of an individual ,'this person is fine'."

A spokesman for the Easdale brothers said: "This is ancient history – a 17-year-old story. The facts concerning Sandy Easdale are well known and he makes no secret of it. He and his brother now run a hugely successful group of companies and employ over 1000 people.

"Restrictions had been placed on James because the brothers had joint holdings but they were lifted after the first hearing and there was no further action against James."

Easdale's new company

JAMES Easdale has formed a new sports-related company, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

The businessman in line to become one of Rangers' biggest shareholders launched Sportsco Ltd days after it was reported that outgoing Rangers CEO Charles Green would be selling his shares to him.

According to Companies House, the new firm was incorporated on April 30 and has an address in Greenock. Easdale is listed as the organisation's sole director.

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