It’s good to see that HMRC’s latest failing – being unable to furnish costs of their continual and apparently relentless pursuit of Rangers over EBT’s – has galvanised the Rangers support into a long overdue unified sense of purpose. After a period of unhelpful adjectives and metaphors, which military men would aptly describe as “blue on blue”, we are at long last reminding ourselves where the real enemies of our club are, and it’s certainly not from within.
It is not surprising that HMRC’s latest hypocritical incompetency, and I use that term deliberately in view of the fact we are talking about an investigative government agency who hold both private individuals and companies accountable for failing to keep meticulous financial records, has given rise amongst some of our fans to suggestions of a grandiose conspiracy. I don’t subscribe to such a conspiracy theory, and those who read this blog regularly will know that as far as I’m concerned “Evidence is king”. There appears to be little or no evidence available at this time to suggest any high level conspiracy, instead I will in the course of this article offer you an alternative evidence based theory to explain why HMRC’s pursuit of our club has all the characteristics of a witch hunt.
Before dismissing such a conspiracy theory completely however it is worthwhile pointing out that the South African Tax Authorities have recently discovered what has been described as a rogue unit working within their organisation. Furthermore much closer to home, the families of the Hillsborough victims had to suffer considerable ridicule for suggesting that the Police were involved in some kind of conspiratorial cover up over events that tragic day. Several years later the 160 odd altered Police Statements and deliberate, false and malicious briefing of the press by the Police, are now a matter of public record and the subject of an ongoing enquiry. Therefore despite the absence of evidence of conspiracy perhaps the best course available to us is to at least keep an open mind whilst concentrating on the evidence which is available to us.
Discounting such a conspiracy theory does not however also discount the ruthless nature of this enquiry, nor the attempts by HMRC to deliberately mislead the Rangers support during the course of it. It would come as no surprise to any of us if, in the near future evidence was uncovered which demonstrates HMRC have acted in both an unscrupulous, unprofessional and unedifying manner throughout the course of this enquiry. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Some will note the particular irony of HMRC paying for stolen evidence, given the fact a considerable amount of evidence in the Rangers Tax Tribunal, ended up in the possession of BBC Scotland journalists and proved to be the catalyst to “The men who sold the jerseys” documentary.
However the Redknapp case was not the only one which had brought the professionalism and competency of HMRC under a very public spotlight, leaving it’s investigators with red faces and questions being asked.
I doubt there is a Rangers fan out there who doesn’t feel a sense of the tunnel vision Mr Cassidy alludes to during the Montpelier case. It appears history may well be repeating itself as HMRC continue to pursue Rangers despite a number of failed appeals chaired by some of the most qualified tax experts in the country.
These spectacular high profile failings and questions of competency, integrity and professionalism served to bring HMRC very much under an intense spotlight, most notably by the public accounts committee.
So we have a government investigative agency, with a spectacular series of high profile failures, even despite indulging in some fairly unscrupulous means of obtaining evidence which in itself calls into question the very integrity of the organisation itself, under considerable pressure to re-dress their very public humiliation in a series of failed prosecutions.
It certainly puts into some kind of perspective the relentless and ruthless nature of HMRC’s pursuit of Rangers. Quite simply after so many failings they simply had to get a result.
But if HMRC were in a bit of a hole prior to and during the investigation, rather than stop digging as the age old saying goes, they appear to have taken the equivalent of a JCB to the situation.
Apologies for the following paragraph in advance, as it deals mainly in conjecture rather than facts, but it is worth mentioning all the same. Despite HMRC’s claim to be unable to furnish the cost of the Rangers Tax Case, rumours abound of figures at or around the £10 million mark. Furthermore it is common knowledge that Sir David Murray attempted to settle with HMRC over EBT’s offering anything between 10-12 million pounds. Even taking the lower settlement figure HMRC are now looking not only at £10 million lost revenue, but also perhaps £10 million costs for pursuing a case against a company from whom they will be unable to recoup anything even if they were to eventually be successful in a forthcoming appeal. One wonders what the Public Accounts Committee will make of all this.
Moving on from public accounts to public accountability and the HMRC JCB appears to have been working in overdrive to dig a bigger hole for themselves.
Perhaps HMRC would care to explain to Rangers shareholders, and any other interested parties for that matter, why they allowed Craig Whyte, who they were already pursuing for a sum of £3.7 million and whom they had threatened with bankruptcy as a result of failed tax returns, to take control of an organisation and run it into the ground by failing to make PAYE payments for nearly 9 months. If you cannot hear the alarm bells by now, then you either are deaf or have your fingers, quite firmly, in your ears.
HMRC’s JCB next wrong turn was in the form of a generic reply via correspondence. As thousands of Rangers supporters and shareholders wrote to complain about confidential tax documents and other paperwork appearing in the public domain, HMRC responded by asserting it did not comment or respond to speculation about alleged breaches of confidentiality.
“Speculation”? “Alleged”? The subject of those complaints were The Rangers Tax Case Blog and the BBC Documentary “The men who sold the jerseys” both of which went onto win national awards, with the latter being broadcast on national television.
Journalist Tom English described the Rangers Tax Case Blog as follows:
“If you wanted to know the latest news on their tax travails, rangerstaxcase was a place you went because, unlike newspapers or radio stations, rangerstaxcase was connected to the heart of the FTT and everybody knew it.
It had documents and detail that were beyond dispute. When illustrating one point it was making it would summon up information that could only have come from somebody within, or very close to, the tribunal”
(The Scotsman 25.11.2012)
Why have HMRC deliberately prevaricated and failed to respond to this clear breach of confidential information. How can they justify describing a national television broadcast and an award winning blog, whose plaudits and awards are based around the revealing of confidential information, as mere “speculation”? As others outside the Rangers community have since commented both these outlets of confidential information presented it such a way as to infer the guilt of Rangers FC. Was the same unscrupulous culture within HMRC which saw them buy stolen property in the Redknapp case alive and kicking also in the Rangers Tax Case – a kind of win at all costs mentality?
Whilst the source and nature of those confidential leaks has been subject to many theories and discussions, confirmation about one of the sources was provided courtesy of Lord Nimmo Smith, in his SPL Independent Commission Report.
“Meanwhile, BBC Scotland came, by unknown means, into possession of what they described as “dozens of secret emails, letters and documents”, which we understand were the productions before the Tax Tribunal. These formed the basis of a programme entitled “Rangers – The Men Who Sold the Jerseys”, which was broadcast on 23 May 2012. BBC Scotland also published copious material on its website. The published material included a table containing the names of Rangers players, coaches and staff who were beneficiaries of the MGMRT, and how much they received through that trust.”
Perhaps not so much a case of “Who sold the jerseys” but more of a case of Who sold the evidence?
That is of course the evidence, or as Lord Nimmo Smith terms “productions”, which was seized by HMRC during the course of their investigation into Rangers and which was presented before the Tax Tribunal.
The question is why the removal of this evidence and its subsequent use in the BBC Scotland documentary aforementioned, was not the subject of a Police enquiry until after the verdict of the tax tribunal, when complaints by both Sir David Murray and myself saw the launching of a criminal enquiry.
It raises serious questions about the safe handling and storing of productions, as well as duties and responsibilities of investigative agencies with regard to the loss or theft of productions. In particular it raises questions about how and why Lord Nimmo Smith was able to arrive at such a conclusions with regard to the source of the material which BBC Scotland subsequently came into possession of.
It’s time for you to deliver Mr Cameron and the Rangers support will not rest until you do. We want a full government enquiry into this whole process and we will not rest until we get it.
We will play to win – and win at all costs