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Rangers fans celebrating Big Tax win

Rangers fans have been left celebrating some good news off the park for the first time in more than two years, after the so-called Big Tax case brought by HM Revenue & Customs was struck out.

The majority verdict in a ruling published yesterday appears to vindicate former owner Sir David Murray's stance relating to the use of Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs) as a tax- efficient vehicle to pay players, staff and management during his ownership of the oldco club.

Rangers fans welcomed the news that the £50 million tax bill claimed by HMRC had been dismissed instead as loans to be repaid over time.

However, there is a sense the win is bittersweet after a horrendous year which saw the club plunged into administration over unpaid taxes by former owner Craig Whyte, liquidated and then formed as a newco –albeit in the Third Division.

Andy Kerr, chairman of the Rangers Supporters' Assembly, said it was a day of mixed emotions.

He said: "Obviously we do welcome it and it was probably the position we felt we were in all the way along, but there's an element of me that says all the turbulence we've gone through – which was very much governed by the fact we had this liability hovering over us – might have been avoided.

"The reality is it probably hasn't really affected it in the positive way it might have done if we'd known this 12 months ago.

"But even if it had been an adverse outcome, I'm not sure what a difference it would have made anyway at the stage we're at now."

Mark Dingwall, of the Rangers Supporters' Trust, said the result was a victory for "commonsense and fairness".

He said: "Sadly, the facts of the case have often been obscured by hysteria and pandering to prejudice by various parties, including governing bodies of football, who chose to take advantage of circumstances to pursue their own agendas.

"The club spent roughly £250,000 a year on administering the EBT scheme to make sure it was legally and financially sound, and that advice has proven to be correct."

The First Tier Tax Tribunal said two of its three judges believed the "payments are loans, not earnings, and so are recoverable from the employee or his estate".

The ruling may yet be overturned on appeal by the HMRC, but will not affect the newco Rangers, which cut its ties with the case upon liquidation.

It could lead to repayment demands for the 72 Ibrox staff – including 55 players and five former managers – who are understood to have benefited from the tax-free trusts.

Sir David reportedly received £6.3m. Former captain Barry Ferguson is said to be the second- highest beneficiary of the scheme, receiving a total of £2.5m in tax-free earnings.

Repayment is ultimately a decision for the trust established under oldco Rangers.

Neil Patey, partner at Ernst & Young, said: "The loans are repayable at some point during the lifetime or maybe even at death, from the estate. But that is between the trust and individuals.

"That will be at some point in the future, which is at the discretion of the trustee, in effect."

An independent Scottish Premier League (SPL) commission is still to rule on allegations the side letters distributed to players using EBTs should have been registered with the governing bodies.

If Lord Nimmo Smith's commission rules the SPL and Scottish Football Association's rules were breached, Rangers could be stripped of league titles won during the period when EBTs were used.

The tax case verdict also re-opens debate about decisions made in the run-up to the club being sold to Craig Whyte, and its subsequent administration.

Mr Patey added: "What put Rangers into administration was the fact that Craig Whyte didn't pay VAT and PAYE – it wasn't the Big Tax case.

"But there are points where the Big Tax case may have influenced what happened."

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