Glasgow & West Scotland

Rangers fraud trial: Craig Whyte 'portrayed as pantomime villain'

Craig Whyte Image copyright PA
Image caption Craig Whyte took over at Rangers in 2011

Former Rangers owner Craig Whyte is the "fall guy" in an "unfair and unjustified" case, it has been claimed.

His defence QC, Donald Findlay, told jurors at the High Court in Glasgow that the businessman had been made to look like a "pantomime villain".

He made the comments during his closing speech at the trial of Mr Whyte, who is accused of acquiring Rangers football club by fraud.

Mr Whyte denies the charge and another under the Companies Act.

The defence QC said 46-year-old Craig Whyte was "manifestly" not guilty of a crime in his May 2011 Ibrox takeover.

Playing squad

The advocate added: "The Crown are asking you to be selective in the most selective way imaginable - that is just wrong."

Jurors were previously told how Mr Whyte struck a £1 deal to purchase Sir David Murray's controlling stake at Ibrox.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir David Murray sold Rangers to Craig Whyte for £1

Prosecutors claim Mr Whyte pretended to Sir David and others that funds were immediately available to meet all stipulated payments.

These obligations included an £18m bank debt for the club and a further £5m to go towards funds for the playing squad.

It is claimed Mr Whyte helped fund the takeover of Rangers through an agreement with the ticketing firm Ticketus against three years of season ticket receipts from the club.

Mr Findlay said: "You have seen witness after witness come into court not wanting to take responsibility and sought to absolve themselves for anything that happened.

"It is the playground mentality - it wasn't me. That is the attitude of so many witnesses in this case."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Donald Findlay is defending Craig Whyte at the High Court in Glasgow

The QC claimed it appeared that both Sir David and Mr Whyte had been "ill served" by their advisers at the time.

Mr Findlay said it was clear that Mr Whyte had bought the shares to takeover Rangers.

However, he added: "Was there a crime? The defence say that manifestly there was not."

The advocate then criticised the prosecution's case.

'Buck passing'

Mr Findlay said: "A recurrent theme of what I will say to you is that the Crown approach is wrong, unfair, unjustified and unjustifiable.

"They are asking you to take 10 words from the indictment and that, if you look at those words, Mr Whyte is guilty.

"The Crown are asking you to be selective in the most selective way imaginable.

"That is just wrong, that is just unfair."

Mr Findlay claimed there had been "buck passing, back protecting and blind eye turning" seen during the trial.

He added: "What we have to do is sweep all that away and look at it in its context and in the real world."

Jurors were told Mr Whyte had come along with a "business plan" prior to his takeover.

'Due diligence'

Referring to Mr Whyte, the QC said: "There have been attempts to portray Craig Whyte as a pantomime villain...that everything was fine until he came along.

"But, that is far from the truth. He is being made to be the fall guy.

"Before you do that, you have to look at the whole evidence in this case."

During his closing argument, Mr Findlay also referred to Rangers' early Champions League exit against Swedish side Malmo after Mr Whyte took the helm at Ibrox in 2011.

He told the court: "If Rangers had made the league section of the Champions League, do we actually think we would be here today?

Image copyright SNS (Scotland)
Image caption The bad-tempered match against Malmo saw Rangers reduced to nine men and crash out of the Champions League

"The probability is no."

The court heard claims that the defeat cost the club up to £20m in lost income.

The QC also pointed out that there had been "no loss" to Sir David Murray in the buyout.

Mr Findlay spoke of the share purchase agreement, signed as part of the takeover.

The document makes reference to "third party resources".

The QC went on: "What did Murray's advisers do about it? Absolutely nothing. Why not? It is because what mattered was getting the deal over the finishing line."

The trial has previously heard claims "nothing" was spent on "due diligence" into Mr Whyte's background before the buyout.

Mr Findlay said it seemed the Murray team had been "more focused" on securing a sale.

'Massive organisation'

The QC later pointed to an email from Michael McGill which included reference to Whyte's "other investors".

Mr Findlay added: "What is the only question if you are really concerned about the source of the money?

"It is "who are they...what other investors?'."

But, Mr Findlay said the Murray side did "absolutely nothing" in that regard.

He told jurors: "Only one conclusion can be drawn from that - it did not matter that there were other investors. It was the deal that mattered."

The court further heard the Murray team "ought to have known" about any role Ticketus had.

Mr Findlay claimed a "massive organisation" like the Murray Group could have made enquiries to "explain what this is all about".

The advocate is due to complete his speech on Monday before Judge Lady Stacey gives her legal directions to the jury.

The trial continues.

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