“For every fiver Celtic spend, I’ll spend a tenner” -Sir David Murray
Sir David Murray’s quote was once a bragging right for one half of Glasgow, but now serves as a taunt by the other.
It is actually a misrepresentation.
There is recent case authority in Scotland that provides guidance as to how the First Tier Tribunal may rule in the ‘big tax case’ against Rangers. HMRC has already ruled that Rangers owes the Revenue to the tune of around £24million in tax. Rangers have appealed this to the FTT. The decision is imminent.
In the case of Aberdeen Asset Management v Revenue and Customs Commissioners (1 Feb 2012), Aberdeen Asset Management had started a “discounted option scheme” to provide remuneration on top of base salary to some of its employees. Under this “discounted option scheme”, Aberdeen Asset Management established an offshore Employee Benefit Trust (EBT) and transferred to it a large amount of money. Furthermore, they created an Isle of Man “money box” co with a £2 share capital for the employee and the trust subscribed for the two shares.
One share was paid for at a nominal cost, but the other at a very substantial premium which might range from about £100,000 to more than £1 million. The company’s authorised share capital was increased by £10,000 and it then granted to a family benefit trust, which had been set up for the employee, an option to subscribe for 10,000 ordinary shares in the company.
An employee participating in the scheme held the ‘beneficial interest in the ‘money box’ and was able to receive substantial cash loans at low interest rates which would not be required to be repaid.
In reality, the employee was able to receive substantial additional financial benefit. This is important because the emphasis was placed by the First Tier Tribunal after seeing evidence that the both the employee received significant financial benefit and the employer understood this to be immune for income tax and national insurance contributions.
Had the company thought the payments were not immune to NI and income tax, then every time AAM paid a cash bonus to an employee, then National Insurance and income tax would have been owed on the identical amount. This puts the emphasis on the employers purpose in establishing the EBT.
In this case, Aberdeen Asset Management argued that the overall effect of the transaction was the receipt of shares, not money. However, the FTT and the Upper Tier tribunal (on appeal) both ruled that the shares in the money-box company transferred to an employee were therefore a readily convertible asset, so that Aberdeen Asset Management was, for the purposes of the PAYE regulations, obligated to make payment on the amounts.
Much has been written about the Rangers players of the first decade of the second millennium participating in the EBTs. Much of what has been written as been based on whether or not the second contract existed that was hidden from the SPL/SFA. As far the FTT is concerned, I think this is the wrong way to look at it.
As far as the FTT is concerned, the question is not whether or not the players got loans as payment under a second contract, but whether or not the EBT was setup in order to help Rangers Football Club pay those players without paying income tax or national insurance.
Let me explain.
In the Aberdeen Asset Management case, the FTT ruled there had been a composite transaction made up of series of steps starting with the establishment of, and transfer of money into, the EBT and ended with the transfer of the shares to employees. The structures simply operated to channel additional remuneration from employer to employee. The form and shape of the additional remuneration or benefit might have changed from the time it left Aberdeen Asset Management’s control to the time it came under the employee’s control but the substance of what was being provided did not.
The facts, viewed realistically, “showed unequivocally” that control was vested in the employee who had access to the pot of money contained within the corporate money box. The scheme was ruled to be nothing more than a mechanism to pay cash bonuses and that was a form of payment that the statutory provisions, construed purposively, were designed to catch.
The FTT expressly uses the term, “purposively”, which means that any court of tribunal must look at the purpose of the legislation in order to determine how any particular nuances of a case before it should be construed.
The shares were a payment which was taxable and subject to the PAYE and national insurance contributions regimes.
We must look at the Rangers case in light of this ruling. (I use nice round figures for ease and for emphasis, not as a factual representation)
Lets say Rangers sign a player Billy Smith (fictional, of course) for a wage of £1million a year. (I like to use nice, round figures.) RFC tell Billy that he will be paid from two sources. First Billy signs a contract for £500,000. RFC, in turn, would pay NI and income tax to HMRC at the rate of about 50% or £250,000. Billy gets about 20,833 a month deposited into his bank account monthly in take home pay.
No problem there. However, RFC then place £250,000 into a ‘money box’ in the Isle of Man or Virgin Islands. Billy can then withdraw £20K a month out of it as a loan that he never has to repay. The effect is that Rangers is then off the hook for paying £250,000 in NI and Tax.
In this scenario, Billy was able to take home a £500,000 a year wage, after tax.
Lets look at in a different way.
Lets say Celtic sign a player named Tim Smith (fictional, of course) for a £1million a year. He is paid from one source – his club’s account. Celtic would be obligated to pay the revenue around £500K in income tax and National insurance, at roughly 50% income and NI rates.
Timmy would get about £500,000 in take home wages. Tim would still get a take home wage of about £41,666 a month.
However, in the scenarios above Celtic would have had to to pay the Revenue £500K in income tax and National Insurance. Rangers would only have to pay the Revenue £250K.
The players were not substantially better off. Rangers were.
The point I am making with this is this. The club benefited more than any of the players did. The club was saving a fiver for every fiver Celtic spent. The club could then spend this fiver on buying other players, ensuring participation in Europe, TV monies, cup runs, even 9-in-a-row.
If this is the case, and as expected the FTT rules on this matter in the coming days, the judgement will be dissected and analysed by those in the business to no end. Yet, if the ruling does go against Rangers, this will mean they were effectively able to invest in players by cheating the tax man…
If this is the case, would you agree to a CVA on PAYE and VAT for a pennies on the pound?