16 December 2013

Stumbling Sandy Swings and Misses on STV

Our Chris Graham breaks down Sandy Easdale’s recent interview performances and raises the red flag on questions left unanswered yet again by the current board and their partners...

The past few days has seen something of a flurry of activity from the current board. We’ve had interviews with Graham Wallace and Sandy Easdale as well as the release of minutes from the Vanguard Bears website meeting with Brian Stockbridge from a number of weeks ago. The Graham Wallace interview was quite bland in terms of content but he came across as professional and competent and you can see why he has support from both the nominee directors and Ally McCoist.

It’s probably best I don’t comment too much on the tripe served up by Brian Stockbridge. VB asked some pertinent questions but the answers were typical of a man who is utterly toxic to the Rangers support and there doesn’t appear to have been much attempt to press him those answers. For example, Stockbridge’s attempt to blame the departed Craig Mather for the hiring of Jack Irvine is, frankly, utter nonsense. It’s a common theme from the man with the unfortunate initials that he lays the blame for literally everything at anyone else’s door but his. Poor Brian, always just following orders.

The main event however has been Sandy Easdale breaking cover to do extensive interviews with the BBC, Radio Clyde and STV. As was the case with Charles Green, Peter Smith at STV did by far the best job of attempting to get straight answers from Easdale. It’s also notable, but something of a sideshow, that the people who wailed with anguish when the nominee directors spoke to the BBC seem to have been very silent on Easdale doing the same. The rules of engagement with regard to “Rangers haters,” it seems, are flexible.

Easdale was incredibly uncomfortable on camera but I’m not sure that should be the main concern. He is not claiming to be a public speaker and he’s never to my knowledge had to deal with such a difficult and high profile issue such as this. The real concern for me was that several of his statements made no sense and that he was obviously more uncomfortable when being questioned on subjects like mystery shareholders, Blue Pitch Holdings and Margarita, who he holds proxies for. He also gets into a terrible mess over the involvement of Rafat Rizvi, a man on the Interpol wanted list. I would urge everyone who reads this to watch the full interview with Peter Smith.

Let’s start with his share position: Easdale claims he has around 4.5 percent of the Rangers shareholding in his own name. This tallies with recent stock market announcements. Well, some of them at least. He also claims to have bought Charles Green’s shares. It can’t be both, however. Green held around an eight percent shareholding in Rangers. He owes around one percent of those to Laxey in an earlier stated deal which Laxey confirmed last week has still not seen them receive the shares.

Green claims no financial interest in Rangers. However Easdale only holds 4.5 percent and at least some of those were bought from Imran Ahmad. So where have Green’s shares gone? There is no record of any trade large enough to have been Green’s shareholding. Easdale clearly doesn’t own them or he would have more than 4.5 percent. There is no real question that Green’s shares are included in the proxy votes which Easdale holds but that is not the same as buying them. Either Green has sold them to someone else that Easdale represents or he still owns the shares. I’ve written before about announcement of the Easdales’ shareholdings making no sense and the mystery is still ongoing.

Then we move to Easdale’s position on Blue Pitch Holdings and Margarita. He acknowledges the proxy he holds for them. He claims they are represented by Chris Morgan and a man he calls in two of the interviews “Mazzen Hussein.” I can only assume he means Mazzen Housammi – the Beirut based lawyer who has previously been held up as the man behind these holdings. There is no question that these two men are involved but there is also no real suggestion that they are the beneficial shareholders behind these funds. Easdale is being disingenuous to suggest there is no mystery because he knows the question being asked is not who represents BPH and Margarita but who actually benefits from their shares. The question remains unanswered and Easdale was clearly hugely uncomfortable dealing with questions on the issue. It doesn’t inspire confidence.

On Green’s involvement, Easdale claims he has none. This doesn’t tally with the fact that Green was recently lobbying shareholders to vote for the board. Easdale tries to suggest he is doing this out of some personal malice for Malcolm Murray. Sorry but I don’t believe that.

On Rafat Rizvi he is even more unconvincing. He claims he has never had any dealings with Rizvi. When asked if he would deal with him in future he says, “Well I think you’ve got to look at what is Rafat Rizvi doing at Rangers. What is he perceived to be doing and why would I deal with Rizvi. At the end of the day I have got their shares to vote at the coming AGM. I think the biggest illusion out there is that these are Charles Green or Craig Whyte’s shares which I can categorically tell you they are not.” 

I think you have to watch it to do it justice. He appears uncomfortable, unsure and in fact appears to confirm that Rizvi does have a shareholding that he holds a proxy for. He then later restates that Rizvi has no involvement. Clear as mud.

Easdale also claims that he bought “a large chunk” of his shares at the IPO and therefore the money went to the club. In fact, it appears he bought around 340,000 shares between him and his wife at the IPO. That amounts to around 0.45 percent of the club and represents around 10 percent of his current shareholding. If he does indeed go on to complete the purchase of a further seven percent shareholding from Green (at a reasonable average of 45p per share) then the money he has put into the club represents around 6.5 percent of the money he has spent on shares in total, the remaining 93.5 percent going to Imran Ahmad and Charles Green.

He also says he has put £1.5m into Rangers Football Club. I’d assume that he means that is his total investment including money to Green and Ahmad but that brings us back to the question of where Green’s shares have gone. If Easdale has invested £1.5m in total then he either bought Green’s shares for about 20p each, which seems totally inconceivable, or he doesn’t own them.

He doesn’t answer several questions on his personal wealth which I have to say I think is fair enough. It is worth noting that, unlike Dave King and various other people willing to invest directly into the club, Easdale has never claimed he will do this – although others working for Jack Irvine have attempted to insinuate that he will. He talks through the interviews of investment, of losses on shares and of his stated position that he is not currently considering investing further. He also mentions a hope that his investment will become “more fruitful” in the future. He has no need to justify his personal wealth when he apparently has absolutely no intention of investing it in the club anyway.

Another concerning question raised by Easdale’s answers is what exactly his position at the club is? There have been many people who have felt that since Green’s departure and the resignation of Walter Smith, the Easdales have been running the show. He mentions it being “his job to increase the share price” then quickly amends that to “and the board’s job too.” He also talks of his role as the newly appointed Chairman of the ‘Football Board’. He does not sit on the PLC board and it is slightly odd in that case that he has been trotted out as some sort of quasi official spokesman for that board.

Easdale tells us that the football board is “the business end, where I would say I’m more comfortable in, going out into the market to try to get the club more money, making savings for the club, all the contracts side of the club. It’s the kinda business end of the club, employees of the club itself, where non football playing employees, operate from.” 

I’ll admit to being slightly confused by this. It appears the ‘football board’ has some influence over everything but football. Easdale feels he would have no issues being accepted onto the PLC board under AIM regulations and it begs the question why is he not there then, rather than sitting on a separate board with his brother and Brian Stockbridge?

He tells us we “must trust the board” but gives us no reason why that should be the case. Unconditional trust in those running the club is no longer a given after what fans have been through. He talks of fans giving “the fatal blow to Rangers” if we don’t buy season tickets. I would turn that round and ask when we will get an explanation of where the money we have already put in has gone? He doesn’t appear to be able to answer those questions when pressed. Perhaps he genuinely doesn’t know but why isn’t he demanding an answer given his influence and how that haemorrhaging of cash has effected his investment.

He talks of how investors like Blue Pitch and Margarita trust him and seems to imply that therefore we as fans should. I’m not sure of the logic here. These faceless investors don’t want us to know who they are, are voting to retain the services of a toxic finance director who has completely eroded any trust he ever had and have Charles Green lobbying on their behalf. Why should we trust him because he has their trust? I would say, if anything, their trust in him is something we should be extremely wary about.

All in all it was an uncomfortable and unconvincing performance from Easdale. Many of his answers do not stand up to any kind of scrutiny and it begs the question why was he allowed by his PR man, Jack Irvine, to do these interviews. Irvine is claiming through his usual internet mouthpieces that the vote will be a landslide win for the board, so the timing of these interviews seems odd. In fact it would suggest things are significantly closer than is being suggested and they may well feel they needed to convince some fans to vote with them. Easdale says he did the interview to clear up the BPH and Margarita questions – he completely failed to do that and his defence of Stockbridge and suggestion that he has adequately answered questions about where the IPO money has gone is very concerning.

Perhaps the most concerning point was left for last. Asked about any type of sale or leaseback of Murray Park or Ibrox he stated that it wasn’t being looked at currently but did not rule it out totally as the nominee directors have done. He also stated that “We need to look at all the options of finance. Most great clubs in this world have a level of finance available against the assets of the club, but at this moment in time we have no intentions of taking any of that.” To say alarm bells are ringing would be a massive understatement.

Let’s hope events this week, now including Ally McCoist handing his vote over to supporters, show any wavering fans what needs to be done when they cast their vote at one of the most crucial AGMs in the club’s long history.