The Rangers board has further enraged the club’s fans by choosing a London venue for the general meeting that will decide their fate.
The four plc directors – James Easdale, David Somers, Barry Leach and Derek Llambias – set a March 4 date to deal with shareholder Dave King’s requisition to remove them and appoint himself, Paul Murray and John Gilligan, but they sprang a surprise by naming the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in Kensington as the venue.
The detail was included in a 4,000-word statement which attacked King and warned he could face jail if selected for the board, but the South Africa-based businessman accused his rivals of “running scared” by staging the meeting in the English capital. Annual general meetings are traditionally held at Ibrox, but the board members faced a barrage of abuse at the most recent gathering in December.
However, Rangers fans groups predicted a major mobilisation of supporters to London for the latest meeting, which will be held in a 500-capacity conference room.
The announcement came hours before the 21-day deadline to respond to the requisition of King, who moved into a position of power early in the year when he purchased almost 15 per cent of shares.
King portrayed huge confidence in his ability to secure the majority of votes needed to instigate change when he told the board “the game is over” at a Glasgow press conference on Wednesday, but the directors threw everything they could at King and his allies in their statement.
They quickly brought up King’s convictions of 41 counts of income tax offences in South Africa, which resulted in a fine of about £40million, and highlighted excerpts from a written judgement from a similar court case in which King was described as a “mendacious witness” and a “glib and shameless liar”.
The board also highlighted King’s presence on the oldco Rangers board during Craig Whyte’s reign, which ended with the club being liquidated, and claimed both he and Murray were likely to fail the Scottish Football Association’s ‘fit and proper’ test because of their previous directorships. Murray has previously expressed confidence of passing the test given he actively tried to prevent Whyte’s takeover.
The statement also claimed that the board’s nominated advisor, WH Ireland, would resign if King was appointed, leading to a suspension of trading on the company’s shares.
In response, King told Press Association Sport: “I dealt with the nomad on Wednesday. I stated that Paul Shackleton’s historic role in governance failure rendered the nomad unfit to continue – hence they will not need to resign, they will be replaced. Hence nothing new there.”
Shackleton previously worked with Rangers for Daniel Stewart, which gave up its licence to act as a nomad.
The board also declared concern that King’s appointment could be in breach of section 216 of the Insolvency Act 1986, which is related to people joining boards of companies with the same or similar name to a liquidated company in which they previously held a directorship.
The statement added: “This section applies to Mr King given he was, at the relevant time, a director of the company which previously owned the Rangers Football Club.
“This means that if he were to become a director of the company without such leave (from a court) then, unless he fell within one of the limited exceptions, he would be committing a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment or a fine or both.”
King’s only other response to the statement was to highlight the venue.
He wrote: “I think choosing London is to ensure that fans can’t attend. They are running scared!”
Fan groups railed against that decision. The Rangers First shareholder group announced plans to hold drop-in centres across Scotland and England to help small shareholders fill in proxy forms.
The Sons of Struth group vowed to put on buses for supporters to travel to London and predicted a “significant attendance”.
The Rangers Supporters Trust accused the board of showing “utter contempt” for the 5,000 small shareholders by holding the meeting in London.
It added: “This can only be designed to make it much more difficult for fan shareholders to have their say at perhaps the most critical time in the club’s history.
“Also, we note the venue holds only 500 people. There were more than 2000 in attendance at the recent AGM and even more at the AGM in 2013.
“We will be seeking clarity from the nomad on what arrangements will be made if more than 500 shareholders turn up - something we fully expect to happen because it is essential for shareholders to vote.
“Clearly this board are afraid and are counting on the possibility that many fans will be put off by the venue. But let’s show them that the Rangers’ shareholder base is up for the fight.”
And the club’s own internal Rangers Fans Board described the decision as an “insult” while accusing Llambias of misleading them over the date of the meeting.
The group added: “We are disgusted at this decision which shows no affinity to the Rangers fan base.”