“I Always Thought The Fan Base Could Be Monetised”: Craig Whyte Speaks To The BBC
Poor Craig Whyte. On the day he chose to give his version of the Rangers saga to the BBC, former Rangers joint administrator Paul Clark beats him to the “biggest Rangers lie” of the year trophy. Clark offered a dictionary definition of dishonesty and irony in his statement on Wednesday that he and David Whitehouse, his colleague at financial services firm Duff and Phelps, had achieved their “primary statutory function” as administrators of RFC 2012 PLC, the company which, under its former title ‘Rangers Football Club PLC,’ ran the club. This function was “to rescue” RFC 2012 PLC “as a going concern, in the interests of its creditors,” and Clark included this in the statement which formally announced that the creditors had approved the… er… liquidation of RFC 2012 PLC. To rub Whyte’s nose further in it, Clark then secured the runner-up spot by claiming they had achieved their second objective, to “secure a buyer” for Rangers. The objective was actually phrased a little differently: “achieving a better result for the company’s creditors as a whole than would be likely if the company were wound-up (without first being in administration).”
Given that Duff and Phelps sold the assets and business of Rangers for £5.5m, £2.5m of which will end up with… Duff and Phelps, it remains to be seen how much “better” the result for the company’s creditors will be. To be fair, they were only able to obtain £1.5m for Ibrox and other “heritable” properties. And Rangers CEO Charles Green told STV (also on Wednesday) that “we’ve got a valuation, from an independent source, of the properties (of) in excess of £80m…that’s not two weeks old.” So, at least Clark wasn’t lying when he said the administration was carried out to the “highest professional standards,” having obtained very nearly TWO PER CENT of that value for creditors. Well done you. Whyte’s failure to land the “lie of the year” award wasn’t for the want of trying, however. He set out his version of his Rangers tenure in a 33-minute interview with Chris McLaughlin, the senior football reporter of BBC Scotland, an organisation Whyte was trying to sue for all kinds of calumny after Mark Daly’s October 2011 documentary, Rangers – The Inside Story, suggested all sorts of shady goings-on in Whyte’s business history.
If Whyte wrote a book called Rangers – My Part In Its Downfall, it would be a thin volume. “I certainly made mistakes and I take full responsibility for my actions in the time that I was there,” he told McLaughlin, having spent 33 minutes trying to give said responsibility to former Rangers owner David Murray, Duff and Phelps, the “previous board” and, naturally, the media. Even when Whyte was being honest, it was virtually impossible to sympathise. It was Whyte the venture capitalist talking, free from any pressure to pretend to be a Rangers fan and to know one end of Davie Cooper from the other. Despite the “ruinous tax case,” Whyte said there was “substantial value in the club… particularly the size of the brand. I always thought the fan base could be monetised and there was money to be made out of the club.” That sound you can hear is Bill Struth spinning in his grave. Whyte, the “official” version goes, didn’t “monetise” anything at all. Yet when McLaughlin asked “how much did you make?” Whyte replied: “Any arrangements I had with the purchaser are obviously confidential,” instead of the “nothing” he was expected to say.
Whyte continued: “I’m not saying that I did or I didn’t… arrangements that I’ve got are confidential…I don’t think anyone cares about that.” “I think you might be wrong,” McLaughlin, noted, correctly. Whether Whyte made any money, or was simply implying that Green had agreed to pay him rather more than the £2 he claimed, is not yet clear. What was clear, to Whyte anyway, was the “high likelihood” that Rangers were going to enter administration on his watch. “I’d always hoped to avoid it,” he claimed, without suggesting how. He had “said at the time” that this high likelihood equated to “a 75% chance.” And “everybody that was involved” in the takeover “deal” (Whyte’s favoured buzzword) was “well aware of that.” “If you look at all the documentation we entered into on the sale,” Whyte continued, “everything mentions administration and insolvency events…you could not have signed the sale agreement and not been aware (that the club was heading towards administration).”
This “everybody” included Murray and Lloyds/TSB group and, of course, Whyte’s advisers. So, it was perhaps fortunate that among Whyte’s senior advisers was one Donald Grier, now a senior partner in Duff and Phelps, even though “everybody” also knew that the chances of exiting administration via an arrangement with the company’s creditors (a CVA) were “slim.” HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) were very likely to be the largest creditor and, as Whyte nicely understated, “I knew from experience of dealing with HMRC before that they’re not necessarily easy to deal with in these scenarios.” How much of that unease was down to Whyte’s own business history, he did not say.
The validity of at least some of these claims can be tested by scrutiny of all related documentary evidence. The main body of the sale agreement contains enough references to insolvency and “successor entities” to suggest that it was a topic of conversation over more than just the occasional cup of tea – “insolvency event” is included in the agreement’s “Definitions and Interpretations.” And as the Whyte interview continued, the importance of such evidence magnified, especially when it came to his headline-grabbing suggestion that “everybody who was involved in the deal team at the time” knew about “the Ticketus deal.” Whyte sold future season-tickets to the London-based ticket agency to pay off Rangers’ £18m debt to Lloyds Banking Group – a condition of the takeover. And Duff and Phelps knew “absolutely everything” about this from what McLaughlin called “the beginning.” Whyte added that he was “completely amazed that they denied this, because there is so much documentary evidence that they did know about it, that they were at every meeting…they were copied in on all the e-mails.”
After his May 2012 documentary Rangers – The Men Who Sold the Jerseys, the BBC’s Mark Daly published an e-mail which backed Whyte’s further claim to McLaughlin that “Duff and Phelps” in the form of Grier “even (came) to celebrate with Ticketus and all the other advisors when the deal was completed.” And of all Whyte’s revelations, he was the most confident, effusive and detailed on this one. But given his track record with the truth, both in the past and in large swathes of the interview with McLaughlin, he will need to produce all the documentary evidence he can find before anyone will begin to believe him. Indeed, elsewhere on Ticketus he was pedantry personified, denying that he…er…denied “using the money from Ticketus to buy Rangers.” He insisted he had been asked “a specific question” about whether he “borrowed and mortgaged” the money and said “no” because “it was actually selling tickets in advance, Ticketus owned the tickets.” The truth on this one is for the courts to find.
The question “who knew?” re-emerged over Rangers’ non-payment of tax from October 2011. In March 2012, Whyte’s director of football, Gordon Smith, insisted in front of an audibly disbelieving BBC Radio 5 Live audience that he didn’t know Rangers weren’t paying tax. This came back to mind as Whyte insisted to McLaughlin that “at senior level at the club, it was difficult not to know that.” However, Whyte refused to define “senior level” when pressed on “who knew,” simply that “it certainly wasn’t a secret.” And conviction left his voice when McLaughlin accused him of deliberately keeping “this information from people at the club.” He hadn’t done so “purposely,” Whyte said, without suggesting how he had done so accidentally. “It is fair to say it was done on a “need-to-know” basis,” he continued, before admitting that “it was out there in media circles as well as far back as October.” This last bit was true. Whyte memorably dismissed the rangerstaxcase blog as “99% crap.” Clearly the information published on that blog about Rangers struggling to survive beyond October was among the 1%.
Almost comically, Whyte insisted that stories of his billionaire status “were never encouraged by me… or by my PR-advisors.” Nor were they discouraged by him. And while “one phone call to me would have confirmed that was complete nonsense,” one call FROM him would have done likewise. Perhaps he’d run out of credit on his mobile. After all, he was no billionaire. McLaughlin was wasting his time debating morality with the clearly amoral Whyte. Whyte’s expression almost audibly turned blank when morals came up. And there was really no point in McLaughlin asking “can you understand what I’m saying?” when he suggested Whyte was “using cash that was still in Rangers’ fans pockets to buy the club.” Whyte insisted this was no different to using bank funding: “If you are using banks’ money, you are using other people’s cash… there’s absolutely no difference, nothing morally wrong with that whatsoever”; nor with using fans’ money when “you were not willing to put your own cash in.”
There was further fun to be had when McLaughlin started quoting from Whyte’s various media blitzes last year. “You said on September 14th 2011 ‘the club is trading normally and has a strong balance sheet.’ Was that a lie?” Nope, because “on September 14th, the PAYE payments were all up-to-date” Whyte ventured, remembering all his lessons at semantics school. McLaughlin did at least get Whyte to admit that “mistakes.” But Whyte didn’t mean the interview to be a mea culpa. “I thought it was important to put the true facts of the whole situation out there,” he claimed. There’ll have to be a sequel, then. Whyte said “there are others out there trying to airbrush history.” For instance, Green was, to quote a memorable phrase from Newsnight Scotland’s Gordon Brewer, “running around all day telling anyone who would listen,” that Whyte was being “misleading” (not “wrong” or “lying”, you’ll notice) to suggest that he had introduced Green to Rangers.
Airbrushing history is, of course, where we came in, with Paul Clark claiming Rangers’ administration as a triumph for Duff and Phelps and Green’s potentially significant claim that Rangers properties were worth “in excess of £80m… not two weeks ago,” having paid £1.5m for them not four months ago. Green’s, ahem, “inconsistencies” in his public statements show no signs of abating. And Whyte is threatening more “revelations” about “floating charges.” So, despite Clark’s demonstrable falsehoods on Wednesday, he probably hasn’t clinched the “biggest Rangers lie of the year” trophy at all. And you don’t have to be a Celtic fan to believe that that isn’t right.
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