Supreme Court to rule in Rangers tax case

Ibrox Stadium
The controversial tax scheme was in operation at Ibrox between 2001 and 2010

The end is in sight for one of the longest running financial sagas in Scottish football.

After two tribunal verdicts and a Court of Session verdict, the Supreme Court in London will have the final say on Rangers' use of a controversial tax avoidance scheme between 2001 and 2010.

The implications of the verdict could have huge implications either way.

Under former owner Sir David Murray, Rangers issued some employees, including players, managers and directors, with tax-free loans from off-shore trusts called Employee Benefit Trusts. In total, more than £47m came out of these trusts to over 80 individuals.

Since 2010 the HMRC have argued that these loans were actually earnings and should be taxed accordingly.

Two tax tribunals found in Rangers' favour but as the club fought the tax man it was forced into administration and liquidation. HMRC appealed against the tribunal decisions and won in the Court of Session in 2015.

Knowing huge tax liabilities would ultimately affect the cash available to Rangers' creditors, it was then up to the liquidators to take the fight to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, for a final judgement.

Former Rangers chairman David Murray
Justices Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, Lord Reed, Lord Carnwath and Lord Hodge will hand down their judgement on the tax status of Sir David Murray's Murray Group Management trusts

If the Supreme Court finds in favour of HMRC, liquidators BDO would be liable for the tax and would ultimately have to come to a deal with the taxman to pay it off. They have amassed a pot reported to be in the region of £40m from legal disputes and money owed to the former company.

HMRC could then issue something called Follower Notices, which would demand payment from companies who ran similar schemes and have been waiting anxiously for a verdict on this test case. A number of football clubs in England fall into this category.

In a strange twist, those individuals who were in receipt of an EBT may well benefit financially from a win for the tax man. A defeat for Rangers in liquidation would put the onus of liability on the company, and in this case, the liquidators.

A win for BDO would move the onus of responsibility to the individuals. Legislation in the draft finance bill means those in receipt of EBT loans from April 1999 onwards, must pay PAYE on them after 2019 if they have not settled with the tax man.

In another twist, if the decision goes against the tax man, the liquidators could sue HMRC. This has happened in similar cases in the past where companies were forced into insolvency.

Whatever happens, the outcome is unlikely to have any financial or material impact on Rangers Football Club as they are now. The club is owned by a different company.

That will not stop calls for action to be taken if a result in HMRC's favour suggests trophies were won with the help of players who were given financial incentives subsequently deemed illegal.

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