• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Tax case decision something of a curate's egg for Sir David Murray

THE message from Sir David Murray over the past week has sounded perilously close to humility.

A kaleidoscope of comment has been directed at the former Rangers owner. Picture: Martin Shields
A kaleidoscope of comment has been directed at the former Rangers owner. Picture: Martin Shields

That's not exactly the characteristic which usually comes to mind with the bombastic former Rangers owner but, this time, he has struck the right tone with his reaction to the "big tax case".

Others have rushed to pat him on the back over employee benefit trusts (EBTs) being declared legal by two of the three experts who last week finally passed judgment.

Murray himself has been circumspect and reflective. "Nobody has won, there is no point in me waving a big flag and saying we have won, Rangers has been destroyed," he said last week in The Herald. Yesterday, there was more of the same: "I will never be vindicated because I sold the club to the wrong person [Craig Whyte]. This is not a time of 'I have won, you've lost'. This isn't a time for triumphalism."

It was fitting that expert opinion was split on the tax avoidance scheme that came to define Murray's reign because he remains a deeply divisive figure for the Rangers support. Ally McCoist called for a more generous analysis of Murray in light of the tax outcome and affection for the old owner is predictably widespread among those who benefited from his largesse. Those who could never bring themselves to criticise were first in the queue when it came to celebrating the tax verdict as a comprehensive victory for and vindication of Murray. The significance was enormous: the stigma of "years of cheating" was removed, a stain which would have sunk Rangers' and Murray's reputation had EBTs been declared illegal. But it is too convenient to now pin the blame entirely on Whyte and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for what happened to Rangers. Murray should never feel at ease with how he embraced EBTs.

Other clubs limited their use of EBTs or took financial advice and avoided them altogether. Murray plunged in, funnelling tens of millions into the bank accounts of players and other staff and – inevitably – drawing the attention of HMRC. Murray could not see, or would not acknowledge, the risk to which he was subjecting the club. The verdict cleared Rangers but it was far from a foregone conclusion. Tellingly, Murray offered £10m to settle during the investigation and did not have the confidence to take responsibility for any potential tax liabilities when he was trying to sell the club.

Murray Group Holdings does not come out smelling of roses in the 145-page tax judgment. The findings say that "the protracted and chequered course of the inquiry was largely due to a lack of candour and co-operation" from a senior tax expert in Murray Group, referred to in the anonymised findings as Mr Red. The verdict says that key documents, including side letters, were not disclosed despite repeated requests and statutory demands. It needed a search warrant for the City of London Police in a separate inquiry to recover some of the documents HMRC needed. Some documents were only provided to HMRC five and a half years after the inquiry began. The impression was that Murray's people were jumpy and unsure of themselves.

HMRC had a duty to pursue this case, no matter how long it took, but in other respects sympathy rests with Murray rather than the taxman. Nowhere in the findings is there any reference to the leaking of confidential information or natural justice being compromised, but Murray is entitled to angrily demand answers on how detailed aspects of the case got into the hands of the rangerstaxcase blogger and others when it could only have come from someone working for the authorities. In the course of shovelling responsibility for Rangers' collapse solely on to Whyte, he also made a germane point about HMRC allowing his disgraced successor to run up months of unpaid PAYE and VAT in 2011, stepping in only when administration was unavoidable.

"They knew he was not paying his taxes, so why did they not pull him down then?" said Murray. "They are not allowing Hearts not to pay their PAYE, are they?"

Otherwise, and truer to form, threatening legal action against those who had badmouthed and wronged him and Rangers was vintage Murray, and it struck a chord with many supporters who crave retribution against those who had the most to say about years of "tax evasion and cheating". But nothing can change the fact Murray's industrial-scale use of EBTs – legal and approved as they now are – left Rangers so vulnerable that it set them on the road to ruin.

And Another Thing . . .

Few things get under a manager's skin like being bawled at and abused by home supporters around the dug-out.

Neil Lennon's anger after the defeat by Inverness Caledonian Thistle was a flashback to the unhappier, edgier figure everyone saw when 18 months ago he was placed under intolerable stress.

The trigger on Saturday was the burning resentment he felt towards those supporters who, as far as he saw it, were demanding relentless gratification from a set of players who recently delivered that glorious win over Barcelona. It was clearly jarring for him to hear angry abuse bellowing down from supporters who have been given so much.

Lennon need not be in any doubt about the esteem in which he is held by Celtic fans, though. His "I'll leave if you want me to" ultimatum need never be put to the test. When he walks out at Tynecastle on Wednesday night there will be, from the away stand to his right, nothing but loud and unequivocal approval.

Contextual targeting label: 
Business

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

127559