As 2013 was such a rubbish year for football governance and finance, who better to be football’s “man” of it than someone called Charlotte, who told a tale of financial skullduggery and subterfuge and whose real identity, or possibly identities, remain concealed? Mark Murphy thinks “no-one.”
The phrase “internet phenomenon” is, granted, clichéd journalese. And I would hesitate to use it about a Twitter account whose origin and veracity remained shrouded in mystery (especially outside Scotland), for its seven months in and out of cyberspace.
However, “Charlotte Fakeovers” was such a phenomenon… definitely the best of 2013 at summarising modern football businesses’ ills. Ad worthy of examination, now that “she” claims “my work is done and I’ve cashed in,” regardless of whether the Rangers-related material (s)he published was genuine (probably), genuinely obtained (probably not) or the work of an exceptionally febrile imagination.
Project “Charlotte” was the codename for a bid fronted by English businessman Andrew Ellis to buy Rangers from David Murray in 2010 – Murray’s business HQ being in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square. The negotiations broke down and Ellis’s lasting Rangers legacy was to introduce Craig Whyte to the club. Ellis has since apologised… profusely. In May, CF started posting comments on the Scottish Football Monitor (TSFM), website set up “to cast a questioning and watchful eye on Scottish Football officialdom and the compliant mainstream media.” But although they seemed a match made in non-compliant media heaven, TSFM became wary of posting the material and soon withdrew CF’s “privileges.” TSFM copped much criticism for this but given the dubiety of CF’s source(s), it was an understandable decision.
So the Twitter account @charlottefakes was born, promising “thousands of items to review,” a promise they kept, as almost daily tweets appeared with Rangers-based material of varying degrees of privacy and confidentiality; some of it personal enough to Whyte to suggest the source was either him or someone ultra-close to him, whether acting on his behalf or not. And there were tapes too. The Daily Record newspaper, never slow to rake muck – or take credit for “exclusives” long-published on the internet – aired The Whyte tapes on its website in April 2013. And BBC Scotland investigative journalist Mark Daly’s broadcasts on Whyte included the airing, in October 2012, of a taped conversation between Whyte and David Grier, leading light in Rangers administrators Duff & Phelps (D&P). CF published full conversations from which the Record and BBC Scotland extracted highlights.
In early September, @charlottefakes disappeared, almost certainly the consequence of legal action by one or more of the long list of names named therein. Since then, CF intermittently re-emerged – as CF 2, 3 and 4, “Charlie’s Chuckles” and finally “Orange Count.” The more recently-leaked material related almost exclusively to the post-liquidation era, and included full copies of board meeting minutes from the Rangers companies set up by Charles Green.
Much of this material remains relevant, and there is the sense that it has come from a different source, or sources, to the Whyte-era material, as if the original leaks attracted disaffected whistleblowers among those connected with Green-regime Rangers (and there was enough to get disaffected about). Partly because of this relevance, one suspects, this material attracted even more attention from various legal people, presumably associated with post-liquidation Rangers. New material would surface only for the twitter account to be suspended, necessitating a re-appearance under a new name. And, once that name was spotted, the whole process would start again.
Unfortunately for these legal people, the tweets were largely saved by a more alert twitter following – the original account garnered over 15,000 followers and subsequent accounts quickly gathered hundreds. These followers, myself included, were ready to screen-grab or transcribe material, knowing that it could disappear at any given moment. And the “final” account, “Orange Count,” helpfully reproduced much of the previous material…in case any followers with lives had missed anything (I didn’t miss much, you’ll not be surprised to learn).
Wary of the material’s origin and veracity, Scotland’s mainstream media (SMSM) largely ignored CF initially. Scotsman writer Tom English addressed the phenomenon in a May 19th piece, Green-Whyte team would break all the rules, in which he was highly sceptical of the material (almost certainly with lawyers in mind). This was partly because, he claimed: “at least some of it has come from Craig Whyte, a man who Celtic people rightly viewed as a discredited chancer up until such time as he started leaking stuff that was damaging to Rangers.” CF responded: “Report is so far wide of the mark,” claiming that “Whyte has a legal team battling me right now.” And English was “exclusively” interviewing Whyte “up until such time as he” put Rangers into administration, so was an authority on changing opinions of the “disgraced former Rangers owner” to fit prevailing moods. However, his scepticism might also have been fuelled by his appearance among the journalists CF criticised most heavily.
In contrast, sections of football’s blogosphere saw the revelations as proof of long-held suspicions about Rangers-related financial dealings, before and after the club’s liquidation. English was witheringly critical of this behaviour, suggesting that “when anything is leaked, it is immediately branded explosive, no matter what the hell it is. Initially, the Rangers blogosphere sought to discredit CF entirely. More attention was paid to it once boardroom battle lines were drawn this summer – with each ‘side’ making selective use of the revelations to underpin their arguments. And this attitude was occasionally reflected in the SMSM too, albeit often without attribution. Information from a set of management accounts, was cited, as fact, in debates over Rangers’ annual accounts.
The stars of the first Charlotte account’s material, and those with cause to fear its authentication, were, in no particular order, Whyte, David Murray, Paul Clark, Neil Doncaster, Grier, James Traynor, Green, Aiden Earley, Imran Ahmad…and, actually, many, many more. Three aspects of Whyte’s regime took centre stage. Charlotte had a distaste for Media House PR company founder and chairman Jack Irvine and his use of PR’s ‘dark arts.’ While Irvine’s leaked emails showed his distaste for the “morons in the Scottish media,” individuals such as Rangers ex-chairman Alastair Johnston and “mad, disgruntled lunatic” fans. It may be the norm for modern-day football clubs to use “pro-active,” aggressive PR. Such ‘spin’ has disfigured UK politics since the 1980s. But exposure of Irvine’s tactics turned Rangers fans against him, especially after CF leaked an email in which Irvine called Rangers legend John Grieg “thick.”
Then there was the “Wee Tax Case.” Rangers owed £2.8m in taxes. The argument ran that these were “overdue payables” under Uefa regulations, which would deny Rangers a licence to play in European club competitions. The SFA ruled otherwise. CF leaked pages of documentation which “should offer some clarity to those with issues” on these payments and that the “data should offer comfort to those who questioned if a licence was applicable and/or if the SFA was fit for purpose.” Another leaked email exchange covered what Grier knew of Whyte’s financial dealings. A “doomsday scenario” examined before Whyte bought Rangers, included MCR, who subsequently became part of D&P, being “appointed administrators” and being “on board with the whole process.”
Grier also knew, months earlier than he claimed, all about the infamous use of future season-ticket money, via the agency ‘Ticketus,’ to cover Rangers’ £18m bank debt, the takeover’s key condition. Documents showed Grier was “aware of the Ticketus finance and the sums involved” in April 2011. While Rangers joint-administrator Paul Clark was given all the details, including the fact that it was a “three-year” deal, on April 6th 2011. So, CF concluded: “D&P have absolutely no room for claiming to have been unaware of the amounts involved…until August 2011.”
Early awareness is a recurring theme in other documents. One suggests SFA president and Rangers ex-director Campbell Ogilvie set up a player remuneration trust in September 1999, despite claims in May 2012 that he didn’t “know the detail of who got individual EBTs.” Others reveal that the SPL knew of Rangers’ financial peril by October 2011, and of HMRC’s view of it by November. Yet not everyone was as fully aware as they should have been. In a 9th May email to Green, headed Rangers; subject to contract, joint-administrator Paul Clark asks “Are you the chosen one?” Wasn’t Clark doing the “choosing?” CF also showed Whyte and Green working together more closely and for longer than Green was ever forced to admit.
Indeed, key associates of Whyte and Green – ex-bankrupt Aidan Earley and Interpol target Rafat Rizvi – were supposedly involved in drafting key clauses of the agreement to purchase old Rangers shares – when American truck tycoon Bill Miller was still the “preferred bidder.” And the leak of two “letters before claim” on Whyte’s behalf outline Whyte’s belief that he was entitled to some “consideration” for transferring that deal from “his” company, Sevco 5088, to Green’s company, Sevco Scotland.
Other little snippets included ex-hack James Traynor asking Whyte for a Rangers job 11 months before he got one…and 21 months before he lost it again. And the SMSM knew all about Whyte’s less-than-illustrious business past in November 2010 but ‘chose’, after pressure from Irvine, not to bother readers with it. CF’s “autumn collection” revealed murkier details of Green’s and Ahmad’s dealings with Whyte and Earley and with the now-infamously-expensive Initial Public Offer (IPO) of shares last December. Issues such as “unauthorised returns of share capital” were the subject of considerable and detailed leaks.
The complex story behind the equally infamous “Pinsent Mason (PM)” report into the alleged Whyte/Green links is recounted, with the board divided over concerns at the apparent widening of the law firm’s remit, especially after PM discovered “hairy stuff inside Ibrox.” Leaked board minutes and attendant documentation tell the story of ex-chairman Malcolm Murray’s downfall and give some credence to his claim to have been outvoted on key financial issues. While Murray’s and others attempts to land board seats are revealed to be the fury of a NOMAD scorned.Oh… and CF revealed ALL about who is “behind” Blue Pitch Holdings and Margarita, just why they really wish to remain private and that they aren’t that mysterious, unless it suits to suggest they are.
It seems unlikely that one person could access so much ‘private’ material from two discrete Rangers regimes. Very few individuals were linked to both, which would make CF’s “unmasking” rather easier than it has proved to be. And to some, the newer material appeared “tailored” to fit publicly-known narratives. Finance Director Brian Stockbridge told fans that certain CF emails had been “doctored.” “Charlotte Fakeovers’” revelations have probably not yet had the impact source(s) would have wished. And some still doubt their veracity and importance. Yet they explained and contextualised many superficially oddball aspects of the Rangers saga. And increasing amounts of CF material has become accepted fact, hence Irvine reportedly apologising for his Greig insult.
If genuine, it tells tales of financial impropriety which football and non-football authorities should revisit if they wish to maintain their governance and regulatory integrity. And, as the late Paul McConville noted in his blog Random thoughts on Scots Law last May, when very little CF material had been published: “If the documents have been created to mislead, then that is a lot of effort for uncertain effect.” Either way, Charlotte Fakeovers is an appropriate “man” of a grubby year in British football.
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