The statement can be read in full below. I have appended some notes and comments which are in bold. I will say in advance that disagreeing with the fine gentlemen who make up these bodies is not my default position. However, the facts are the facts, and obfuscation and misleading words and ideas, however innocent, ought to be clarified.
I also wonder what advice, if any, the groups to0k before preparing the statement. There are various parts of it which seem to me to be defamatory of Harper MacLeod, of the SPL, of the Board members thereof and of officials of Celtic. Not perhaps the wisest of ideas.
If a siege mentality is being developed at Ibrox, as seems clearly to be ever more the case then this statement works perfectly. Outside obervers will view it as nonsensical and ill-informed.
Within the stockade however it will be seen as standing up for the club.
The more noise we have on this too, the more the focus is on the “maximum penalty” of stripping of titles which “must be fought against”. Of course that would be a penalty with not a single effect upon Rangers FC today. If spun as being the one outcome which, above all others must be opposed, the hope might be that this would in some way influence the Commission to view it as the ultimate sanction to be imposed, as it is the one to which the club is most opposed.
On behalf of the Rangers Supporters Assembly, The Rangers Supporters Trust and The Rangers Supporters Association, we would like to make the following statement about the investigation into so-called “dual-contracts” by the SPL.
“Rangers fans are becoming increasingly concerned about the details emerging on the SPL investigation and tribunal being set up to deal with the allegation that so called ‘dual contracts’ were used by Rangers FC. As with other consequences of the mismanagement of the club in recent years, if there has been wrongdoing then we would be victims, too. We are asking for justice and fairness, but in discussing the stripping of titles, it appears the SPL has assumed guilt when nothing has yet been proved.
I have mentioned before that, whenever there is a football scandal involving the owners and officials rather than the players at a club the cry goes up that the innocent, whether players or fans, are being punished. After all, goes the cry, the bad owner has been removed or has fled, so why punish the team and the innocent fans?
There are legal and practical reasons for doing so.
Corporate identity is separate from that of the people who own or run a business. The controlling mind test assesses whether the corporate entity can be held responsible for the actions of the owner and officials.
If the change of ownership or personnel stopped action being taken, then I am sure unscrupulous football club owners, if such a thing existed, would “sell” their club to a crony in time for the scandal to be dealt with, and then get it back once the storm had died down. Could you imagine a scenario, for example, where to “escape” from the mess which his football club had become, Sir David Murray sought out a long-standing acquaintance who agreed to take the “fall guy” role? Thankfully no such event occurred…
Finally of course the fans do benefit from the rule breaking where their team succeeds in circumstances where it might not. Having players on the field who are improperly registered benefits the team (as one assumes these are better than the players who would otherwise play).
The best and very simple example of this is the finding that Rangers brought the game into disrepute by not paying VAT and PAYE from September 2011 to administration in February. The money that was withheld was not carried out of Ibrox in a holdall by Craig Whyte. It was spent on the team. If the taxes had been paid on time, then Rangers would have gone bust in October or November, or at the very least they would have had to sell lots of players in August 2011 and January 2012 to keep the lights on and the doors open.
As far as talking about assumption of guilt goes, the fans’ groups seem to have missed the fact that an Independent Commission is being appointed to determine the questions of guilt and innocence and thereafter of penalty.
I will repeat the words “Independent Commission”.
There are a number of areas of concern that we would like addressed in the hope that the football authorities will now act with the necessary independence, transparency and integrity.
What! No mention of clarity and dignity! Why not mom and apple pie?
Conflict of Interest – There would appear to be a serious conflict of interest in the choice of law firm appointed by the SPL to carry out their investigation. Harper MacLeod have acted for Celtic FC, who would be the main beneficiaries of any finding of guilt in the case. Indeed, until it was recently removed, they included a testimonial from Celtic CEO Peter Lawwell on their website. The SPL could have chosen any law firm to carry out this investigation and it was extremely naïve of them to appoint a firm with such a close connection to a rival club.
The Law Society of Scotland rule governing “conflict of interest” can be found here.
1.7.1 You must not act for two or more clients in matters where there is a conflict of interest between the clients or for any client where there is a conflict between the interest of the client and your interest or that of your practice unit.
1.7.2 Even where there is only a potential conflict of interest you must exercise caution. Where the potential for conflict is significant, you must not act for both parties without the full knowledge and express consent of the clients.
Harper MacLeod have acted for Celtic FC. Harper MacLeod have acted for the SPL in carrying out the investigation into the dual contract issue, which has now led to the establishment of the Independent Commission.
There is no “conflict of interest” between the interests of Celtic and those of the SPL. Nor is there a conflict between the interests of HM and the SPL or Celtic.
If HM were acting for the Rangers FC Ltd, then it would have been a conflict of interest to have taken instructions from the SPL to investigate their own client.
The simple fact is that “conflict of interest” is a phrase often bandied about, but rarely referred to in the correct context.
HM acted for Craig Whyte’s company Tixway UK Ltd. HM acted, and may indeed still act, for Mr Whyte in connection with his court dispute with his estranged wife.
HM is one of the busiest and most highly regarded law firms in Scotland, dealing with many clients both at its Glasgow base, and through its other offices, including that in Edinburgh. It has a star-studded roster of clients, and has many outstanding lawyers on its books.
Rod McKenzie is pre-eminent in the sporting law field, having been involved in many high profile cases. He is legal advisor to the Scottish Premier League and is a member of the Judicial Panel of the Scottish Rugby Union. He is a Judicial Officer for the International Rugby Board and European Rugby Cup, a Disciplinary and Appeals Chairman for the 6 Nations and Celtic League and was one of the Appeals Chairman for the Rugby World Cup 2007.
The whole “conflict of interest” argument raised by the Rangers FC fans’ groups seems to be based on the presumption that HM will act contrary to all professional principles and somehow carry out its work for the SPL to the advantage of Celtic, notwithstanding what its instructions are. Such a suggestion is ludicrous, and defamatory of Harper MacLeod.
It is not a secret that HM have acted for Celtic. But the whole point of having independent advisers, whether in legal matters, accountancy issue, PR areas or tax (hah) is that they exercise their professional judgement, skill and expertise, WITHIN THEIR PROFESSIONAL RULES to the benefit of the client instructing them.
HM’s reputation is rightly very high and the Partners, such as Mr McKenzie, are not going to risk that to “help” a client when instructed by someone else.
There were comments circulating last night that the connections between Celtic and HM include a family member of a Celtic executive having had a summer placement there two years ago. This is being blown up into “proof” of some huge Celtic inspired conspiracy to do Rangers FC down. This seems to me to be ridiculous piece of “bear-bating”. What possible connection there can be between the family member having a summer placement, and the “conspiracy” now detected by Rangers FC fans. It used to be that Celtic fans were accused of paranoia.
If one looked closely enough, there will be connections between many law firms and Celtic, Rangers, the SPL, the SFA and related bodies.
Trawling through names for the slightest connection risks bringing unrelated parties into a fevered atmosphere where nothing good can come of it. I know that there are connections which can be valid and relevant. However using family members as “evidence” of very serious allegations of wrongdoing is wrong, and only diminishes any value there might be in the initial allegation.
I would like to see the reaction of Mr McKenzie, who is a most imposing figure, to someone who accused him face to face of breaching his legal duties and responsibilities in the manner the statement above is hinting. Mr McKenzie would, I am sure, leave absolutely no doubt that such a suggestion be treated with the contempt it would deserve.
So to recap, what is alleged to be a conflict of interest is not actually a conflict as defined in the Rules. Mr Lawwell does not have the malign, puppet-master, influence behind the scenes at HM which some seem to assume he must have.
HM were asked to investigate the matter. They did so and their report presumably forms the basis for the case being brought against the Rangers FC. It is now up to the Independent Commission to consider the case – not for HM to come up with and then rubber-stamp a sanctions package.
Those issuing the statement, as well as misunderstanding what a conflict of interest is also have ignored the fact that Rangers FC will have the chance to dispute the case put against them. Bearing in mind that the Tax Tribunal which dealt with the EBT issue sat for many days, this process might be a long one too (although it should be clear that the matters being looked at, whilst related, are not identical).
Prejudicial Media Coverage – There is a concern that any tribunal appointed to rule on this matter will have been seriously prejudiced by the negative media coverage surrounding it. Several managers and chairmen of SPL clubs have attempted to prejudge the matter in the media over the past few months. This includes, but is not limited to, giving opinion on what the punishment should be. This has led to a media feeding frenzy which will have been difficult for any potential tribunal member to disregard. We want reassurance on the selection of the tribunal members and confidence in their impartiality.
“We want reassurance on the selection of the tribunal members and confidence in their impartiality.”
If the SPL follows the same procedure as the SFA, then Rangers FC will be told in advance who have been selected to sit on the Commission, and they will have the chance to object to any of them. This was one of the factors which made Mr McCoist’s demands to know who sat on the SFA Judicial Panel ridiculous. His organisation knew who the panel members were, and had declined the opportunity to object to any of them.
Looking at the question of “prejudicial” coverage, this is not a criminal trial. We are not dealing with members of the public plucked off the street to form a jury. We are dealing with people who have volunteered to sit on sporting justice panels. They will deal with the cases they hear based on the evidence presented at the hearing.
Do the three groups issuing this statement think that the panel will consist of Peter Lawwell, Neil Lennon and Scott Brown?
If the report by the BBC saying that the SPL will appoint foreign nationals to the Commission, then that is a sad refection on (a) how afraid that organisation is of the backlash to it and (b) how anxious it is for the well-being of the panel members.
Apparently, after each negative decision regarding Rangers there has been frenzied analysis on the message boards about the backgrounds of the people making the decisions, including trying to work out what schools they attended.
In light of that, perhaps the SPL could not find anyone on their list of potential members in Scotland willing to hear the case. I am sure that is not the situation, but the fact that it is a possibility is itself a sad reflection.
It might help if the supporters’ groups told us what would satisfy them about “impartiality”. What factors would render a member of the Commission “partial”? In the interests of “transparency and integrity” perhaps they could tell us?
If Rangers or Rangers FC felt that managers and chairmen of SPL clubs had gone over the score, then they could have complained, either to the football authorities, or of it was felt that the good name of Rangers was being traduced, to the civil courts. They did not do so.
Focus on Most Severe Sanction – We are concerned that, despite the SPL having 18 sanctions available, the only punishment being discussed is the most serious yet no guilt has even been established. This, again, leads to a danger of exerting undue influence on the tribunal members through the media. We believe this is being driven by influential members of the SPL board and recently formed ‘steering committee’ with the most to gain.
Whenever a prominent person is charged with a criminal offence, there is usually a mention of what the sentence might be if they are convicted. Normally this takes the maximum penalty and reports that as what the person “could” receive as a punishment. This ignores the fact that maximum sentences usually only apply to the most persistent or serious of offenders.
It should also be pointed out that several of the penalties would lead to Rangers not having won titles. So the Commission can go right to the end and remove titles. It can also annul results of games, or award then to the opposition. Each of these would result in titles being lost.
In any event, the most severe punishment is surely one which affects the club today, whether by expelling them forever from membership of the SPL, or fining them £100 million?
How on earth is changing the record books the most severe sanction?
The more this is harped on, the more it suggests to me that someone clever at Ibrox, of whom there will be many, has decided that, if the line that is pushed is that stripping titles is the last thing they want, and the most severe, it will distract attention from what would actually affect the team now.
Let us be frank. If Rangers was told that, for the sake of argument, every one of its 54 league wins was being taken away, that would only, in my view, help them
To repeat, the SPL is establishing an INDEPENDENT Commission to decide on this matter.
If, after the case is heard and a decision reached, Rangers FC do not accept the verdict or sentence, and have grounds to do so, they will challenge it in an appeal. If they consider that the members of the Commission have been “unduly influenced” they can argue this at the hearing and at the appeal.
As far as the “undue influence” being drive by influential members of the SPL Board, to whom might they be referring?
The SPL Board consists of Duncan Fraser (Aberdeen); Michael Johnston (Kilmarnock); Eric Riley (Celtic); Stephen Thompson (Dundee United); chief-executive Neil Doncaster and Ralph Topping, the non-executive Chairman. Are Rangers afraid of the malign influences of Kilmarnock? In the interests of transparency, they should name those they see as the guilty men.
The suggestion that members of the SPL Board, who have legal duties to all of the members of the SPL, are acting in a partial manner is probably defamatory as well.
Focus on Rangers – We would question why there appears to be no on-going investigation into the so-called “Juninho EBT” used by Celtic FC. Our understanding is that Celtic acknowledged that this was not declared to the football authorities as part of their licence application. If this is the case, then why is a tribunal not being set up to look into this? Did Harper McLeod, who include Celtic amongst their clients, investigate this matter as well? We wish clarity on whether there have been technical breaches at ANY SPL clubs over the past 10 years, with the progress of the investigation and the results being declared.
But officer, look at all those other cars speeding as well!
That does not work as a defence on the road, nor does it do so here.
To extend the analogy, it is as if Rangers have been charged with driving down a busy shopping street at 200 miles an hour, weaving on and off the pavement, whilst complaining about the pensioner whose mobility car might have crept to 32 mph on a quiet suburban road.
Both are offences. One does not excise the other. The scale is vastly different.
It is also interesting that, although I am sure the groups responsible for this statement feel that there is no guilt, they effectively admit that there is, by use of the phrase “technical offences”.
I am sure that the SPL would take action if it considered that the rules were broken by anyone else. But there has to be a lead case. This is it.
HM are not “investigating” Celtic and Juninho for two reasons. First of all, they have not been asked to. Secondly, that WOULD be a conflict of interest!
Maybe the Rangers fan groups could instruct a solicitor and QC to carry out their own investigation to see if Celtic broke the rules, and present their conclusions to the SPL to assist them?
We want justice and fairness for all.
Some simple questions then for the Rangers groups behind this statement.
Do they accept that having players on EBT’s was against the rules, even if only as “technical offences”?
If so, or of it is found to be so, will they agree that every match involving an incorrectly registered player be awarded as a 3-0 win to the opposition?
In that event, Celtic would not win the SPL in the season Juninho played, if his EBT was against the rules – Aberdeen, I think, would do so.
It would also mean that Rangers did not win the SPL, or the Scottish Cup, or the Scottish League Cup, at any time over the last 10-12 years, at least.
That would be justice and fairness for all, wouldn’t it?
Posted by Paul McConville