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Rangers win EBT case appeal

The old Rangers FC have won their appeal in the  so-called Big Tax Case.

Sir David Murray initiated the EBT scheme at Rangers
Sir David Murray initiated the EBT scheme at Rangers

The tax tribunal which heard Rangers' appeal over their bill for the use of Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs) has delivered a majority verdict which has "allowed the appeal in principle".

The tribunal stated that the "controversial monies received by the employees were not paid to them as their absolute entitlement".

Rangers, now in liquidation, had argued that the payments, thought to be close to £49million, had been loans rather than wages and not subject to tax.

No verdict on any sum that the oldco Rangers were liable for was included in the findings, but Sir David Murray's company welcomed the verdict as vindication of their stance.

Murray International Holdings, who were majority shareholders of the oldco club until Craig Whyte's takeover in May 2011, declared in a statement: "We are satisfied that the tax tribunal has now published its widely awaited decision and note the contents thereof.

"We are pleased with the judgement which leaves minimal tax liability and overwhelmingly supports the views collectively and consistently held by our advisers, legal counsel and MIH itself."

Oldco Rangers had previously stated they could be liable for up to £75million but the tribunal ruled that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs assessment should be "reduced substantially" with only some payments subject to tax.

It said: "It was conceded that advances in favour of certain players are taxable and liable to NIC (National Insurance Contributions), and 35 we have found that, in certain other limited instances, there may be a similar liability.

"To that extent the assessments should stand. In these circumstances we expect that it is sufficient that we allow the appeal in principle.

"Parties can no doubt settle the sums due for the limited number of cases mentioned without further reference to the tribunal."

The decision does not affect the current football club at Ibrox, which was reconstituted as a new company when the oldco Rangers was consigned to liquidation in June.

MIH also called for an inquiry into the leaking of information surrounding the case.

The Murray statement continued: "This has been an exceptionally long, difficult and expensive process involving not just the Tax Tribunal but also significant efforts to resolve the matter with senior HMRC officials on a commercially sensible basis for all parties.

"We will therefore review the detailed content of the decision with our advisers and legal counsel to ascertain what action, if any, is now required by MIH.

"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.

"We therefore formally request that the relevant authorities investigate how these sensitive details have been released so widely.

"We have instructed our lawyers to retrospectively review online and printed publications relating to the case to identify whether legal redress is either appropriate or necessary."

HMRC revealed they were thinking about mounting a challenge to the decision, which was supported by two of the judges, Kenneth Mure QC and Scott Rae, but opposed by the other, Dr Heidi Poon.

A statement from HMRC read: "We are disappointed that we have lost this stage of the court process and we are considering an appeal.

"The decision was not unanimous and the diligence of HMRC investigators was acknowledged by the whole tribunal.

"HMRC is committed to tackling avoidance and it is right that we challenge the type of avoidance seen in this case."

Timeline

1999: Rangers open a discounted option scheme (DOS) specifically for payments to Tore Andre Flo and Ronald de Boer.

2001: Rangers begin making payments through an Employee Benefit Trust (EBT), which was set up by Murray International Holdings (MIH).

2002: Sir David Murray quits as Rangers chairman but continues as owner.

2003: Rangers close the DOS scheme.

2004: Murray returns as chairman after MIH heavily underwrote a £57million share issue after the club's debts hit £74million.

2006: The club's annual report reveals a £9.2million "contribution to employee trusts", the high point of the payments. The sum was included in staff costs of £28million.

2009: Murray announces he is to step down as Rangers chairman. Alastair Johnston is named as his successor.

2010: April 27 - Rangers confirm they are under investigation by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) over offshore payments to players from 2001. Rangers say they will "robustly" defend the case on the basis of expert tax advice.

May 16 - Rangers refuse to comment on reports that the final bill could hit £50million.

December - EBTs are outlawed under new legislation.

2011: April 1 - Rangers announce a £2.8million tax liability over an issue relating to 1999-2003 (the DOS). Johnston admits the big tax case could leave Rangers with a bill they cannot afford to pay.

May 6 - Craig Whyte announces his acquisition of MIH's 85.3% shareholding in Rangers for £1.

May 9 - Whyte claims he is confident of winning the big tax case, saying: "At this moment in time, there is no liability to HMRC."

2012: January 18 - A three-day first tier tax tribunal closes in Edinburgh, following earlier hearings to determine whether Rangers are guilty of tax evasion through EBTs.

February 5 - Whyte warns the club could face "the toughest few weeks" in its history as he awaits the tribunal's verdict.

February 13 - Whyte says the club's final tax bill could amount to £75million after Rangers lodge their intention to go into administration at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

February 14 - Rangers appoint administrators Duff and Phelps, who reveal HMRC lodged a petition to force administration over the non-payment of about £9million in PAYE and VAT since Whyte's takeover.

March 2 - The Scottish Football Association (SFA) confirm they will investigate claims made by former Rangers director Hugh Adam that EBT payments made to players were not disclosed to the governing body.

March 5 - The Scottish Premier League instigate an investigation into the alleged non-disclosure of payments made to players by Rangers, which prompts the SFA to drop their case.

March 18 - SFA president Campbell Ogilvie reveals he received £95,000 in EBT payments while a Rangers director.

May 23 - A BBC documentary team claims 63 Rangers players and 24 staff members received EBT payments and says 53 of them were provided with "side letters" detailing the structure of payments. Some of the details were previously revealed by an insider on the "Rangers Tax Case" website, which wins the Orwell Prize for blogging on the same night.

May 31 - Rangers' administrators provide files requested by the SPL in their investigation into undisclosed payments.

June 12 - HMRC announce they will reject a Company Voluntary Arrangement offer that would allow Rangers to exit administration and will instead force the club into liquidation.

June 14 - Charles Green completes a £5.5million purchase of Rangers' assets and business, and creates a new company.

August 6 - Murray denies cheating took place during his stewardship after the SPL appoint an independent commission to investigate payments.

September 10 - The new Rangers company refuse to co-operate with the SPL inquiry.

September 12 - The SPL-appointed commission sets a start date of November 13 for a hearing regarding alleged undisclosed payments by the old Rangers company.

November 13 - The SPL hearing is postponed due to illness with no new date set.

November 20 - The tax tribunal allows Rangers' appeal in principle on a majority verdict and rules that HMRC's assessment should be "substantially reduced". MIH welcome the findings, which they say "leaves minimal tax liability and overwhelmingly supports the views collectively and consistently held by our advisers, legal counsel and MIH itself".

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