Craig Whyte’s mumbling Rangers boardroom cull attempt revealed as details of Martin Bain conference call ax emerge

Craig Whyte picked up the keys to Ibrox on May 6, 2011.

And from that moment the meter started ticking towards financial oblivion.

By blanking the tax man and failing to pay PAYE and VAT from day one, Whyte began running up a ruinous bill weighty enough to tip the club over the edge. I owed the Treasury £9million by the time they called it in nine months later.

And having secretly funded his entire takeover by mortgaging off four years of future season-ticket money, the end was already inevitable. It was only ever a matter of time.

Paul Murray saw it all coming from a mile off, even though his prying eyes were removed from the Rangers inner sanctum shortly after Whyte had seized control.

“Walter Smith had won the league on the final day of the season at Kilmarnock,” Murray recalls before warning that this is where the story turns rapidly from the surreal to the utterly earth shattering.

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“ Dave King had suggested that the existing directors all meet at Ibrox before traveling down to Rugby Park. I’d actually sent Dave a letter confirming my intention to resign from the board after the match.

“But Dave felt it was really important that we all stayed so we could see what was going on from the inside. Against my better judgment I went long with that and withdrew my resignation.

“The following Sunday, on the 22nd of May, at around half past 10 at night, I received an email from Gary Withey, who Whyte had brought in as the company secretary. It was marked ‘urgent’. A board meeting had been scheduled for the following day at 5pm. There was only one item on the agenda. It read ‘Item One: The future’.

“I remember sending Martin Bain, our chief exec, a text saying, ‘I think we know what the future is – and it doesn’t involve us!’

“Anyway, Martin was in the States having gone whitewater rafting for charity with Walter, Ally McCoist and Ian Durrant. The three of them were going for lunch in New York just before the meeting began.

“So he dialed in to the conference call from outside the restaurant on Fifth Avenue. All you could hear were horns tooting and yellow cabs whizzing past him on the street. Alastair Johnston was calling in from Ohio. It was absolute chaos. Farcical. And we all knew what was coming next.

Craig Whyte was very nervous. He tried to take control of the meeting but he was stuttering badly and mumbling his words from him. He tried to break the ice with a joke which fell completely flat because he fluffed his lines from it.

“At this point Withey takes over and says, ‘Craig, maybe I’ll take it from here.’ He starts off by saying Martin and Donald McIntyre are to be sacked for gross misconduct.

“All you can hear above the sound of lunchtime traffic in downtown New York is Martin saying, ‘I’m sorry. Did you just say I’ve been fired?’

“Then Withey says, ‘We’ve also looked into the conduct of Paul Murray and Alastair Johnston and I want you both to resign’.

“I said there’s no way I would do that as I had done nothing wrong. But if they wanted me out then they’d have to fire me too! And that was it. All over in five minutes.”

By ordering this sudden boardroom cull, whyte hoped to rid himself of troublesome interference. Not for the first time, he was making a major miscalculation.

It was not long before senior figures at HMRC were reaching out to Murray to voice serious concerns.

He nods: “They were alluding to a few things but they clearly couldn’t tell us the whole story. But in November of that year they asked to arrange a conference call with Dave King and myself as Dave was obviously still a director at that time.

“They started asking about previous arrangements with Ticketus because we had done a number of small deals with them previously – a million pounds here or there.

“They wanted to know how these deals work. It was clear to us that they had found something really problematic but they were still trying to piece it all together.

“Then, towards the end of January – we’re now obviously fast approaching administration – they clearly want to get the story out that what’s about to happen is not their fault. So we arranged a conference call. I think it was on Friday, January 27.

“I offered to host the call at my lawyer’s offices in Edinburgh. They came to the office and Dave was on the other end of the line in South Africa.”

What they were about to learn left both men speechless. The full scale of Whyte’s secret £27m deal with Ticketus was laid out before them. It was the moment they realized a tidal wave crashing towards Ibrox.

Murray says: “For legal reasons they couldn’t give us the documents and we weren’t allowed to make copies. It was my job to study what they showed and relay the information down the line to Dave.

“Effectively, I was nominated his representative in the room.

“I could not believe what I was being set out. They showed us documents and bank statements which proved that £27m worth of future season tickets had been sold.

“And I was having to explain it all to Dave, one bit of paper after the next. It was mind blowing.

“Dave immediately understood what we were looking at. It was the end of the line. All over. There could be no way back from this.

“We had obviously had our concerns for some time. But to actually see it in black and white? Knowing what it meant to the club. It felt like being hit by a hammer right between the eyes.

“At the end of the meeting I said to them, ‘What do you want us to do with this?’ They just said, ‘Get it out publicly. We want this story to be told’.

“So, with HMRC’s agreement I came to you guys with the story because the Daily Record had been the only newspaper trying to uncover the truth from the start. You had already written about what you had done in June of that year.

“But this was worse than anyone had suspected. Much, much worse.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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