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Monday 20 January 2020

Rangers owner Craig Whyte 'couldn't care less' about lifetime ban but 12-month transfer embargo is 'harsh'

End of the road: Rangers owner Craig Whyte has been banned from football for life. Photo: PA
End of the road: Rangers owner Craig Whyte has been banned from football for life. Photo: PA

Roddy Forsyth

Rangers were all but toppled over the brink to oblivion late on Monday night when the Scottish Football Association hammered the club for the misconduct of its principal shareholder, Craig Whyte.

The SFA’s judicial panel tribunal delivered its findings into several charges relating to failures of stewardship by Whyte, who bought control of the club for £1 from Sir David Murray in May last year.

The consequences for Whyte – a life ban from holding office in a Scottish football club and £200,000 in fines – are unprecedented but virtually irrelevant, as the man himself made abundantly clear by his reaction to the judgement when he said: “Tell me how it is going to affect me?

“I couldn't care less. It makes no difference to my life whatsoever - and good luck collecting the money. It's a joke.

“It is very harsh on Rangers. I am surprised at how harsh the SFA have been on a club which is going through tough times at the moment.

“Stewart Regan (chief executive) and Campbell Ogilvie (president) should resign and get out of Scottish football. The SFA want to kick Rangers when they are down and I hope people remember that. They are playing to the media.”

By contrast, the 12-month transfer embargo imposed by the tribunal prohibits Rangers from signing any players over 18 years of age and is a huge obstacle to the chances of either of the two remaining bidders being able to rebuild the side. The news followed another day of irresolution in the process of identifying a preferred bidder, with the American two truck magnate, Bill Miller, announcing that he was prepared – at the request of the club’s administrators, Duff & Phelps – to stay in the ring while the Blue Knights consortium decide whether or not to renew their proposed deal.

The panel found that Rangers failed to observe statutes and directives (£10,000 fine), had undergone an insolvency event (£50,000 fine) and had brought the game into disrepute (£100,000 fine and 12-month transfer ban on recruiting players aged 19 or older).

In response to the outcome of the judicial panel proceedings, Duff & Phelps issued a statement condemning the sanctions as misdirected and severe in the extreme. Paul Clark, joint administrator, said: "All of us working on behalf of the club are utterly shocked and dismayed by the draconian sanctions imposed on Rangers in respect of these charges.

"It appears that on one hand the disciplinary panel accepted our central argument that responsibility for bringing the club into disrepute lay with the actions of one individual - Craig Whyte - as is evident from the unprecedented punishment meted out to him.

"During this hearing the club produced compelling evidence from a number of sources that following his takeover, Craig Whyte ran the club in a thoroughly unaccountable manner, rather than adhering to a long-established and proper form of corporate governance.

"The thrust of the charges against the club focused on non-payment of payroll taxes and evidence was produced that all such decisions in this area were taken by Craig Whyte during his tenure.

"Given this evidence, it is difficult to comprehend that the disciplinary panel has seen fit to effectively punish the club even more heavily than Mr Whyte. As everyone knows, it has already been decided he is not a fit and proper person to run a football club and any further punishment on him will have little or no impact.

"However, for Rangers, a ban on signing players will seriously undermine the club's efforts to rebuild after being rendered insolvent.

Furthermore, we do not know how bidders for the club will react to these sanctions and what affect they will have on their proposals.”

In the early hours of this morning, Paul Murray – the former Rangers director who assembled the Blue Knights group – told Telegraph Sport that he was ‘digesting’ the news and its implications.

As The Telegraph revealed three days ago, Rangers will run out of money by the middle of next month – or, at the latest, the beginning of June – without income from the annual sale of season tickets. Even if a bidder can be identified after this latest development, the players – who accepted cuts of between 25-75 per cent of salaries to ensure that Rangers could finish the season – must revert to full pay by June 1 or be allowed to leave, almost without asset value, should they choose.

Meanwhile, Rangers still await the outcome of a tribunal which has considered HMRC’s case against the club in respect of Employee Benefit Trusts, used extensively to reduce tax liabilities for players, mainly during the time of Dick Advocaat’s tenure as manager between 1998 and 2002. The worst outcome anticipated by the administrators is £75 million in unpaid taxes, interest and penalties.

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