Craig Whyte is poised to make a formal offer to take control of Rangers within days, after a significant hurdle in the businessman's protracted bid to buy a majority stake in the Ibrox club was negotiated.
Whyte has agreed a package with the Lloyds Banking Group to clear the debt, thought to be about £21m, owed to them by Rangers. A further Rangers loan of £4m with Lloyds will be taken on and paid back in instalments if the takeover goes ahead. Whyte held talks with the Rangers board on Tuesday evening, with the manager Walter Smith also in attendance.
The 39-year-old Whyte is therefore closing in on a deal to purchase David Murray's 85% interest in the Scottish club, a move which has been on the cards since the pair first entered talks last November. Reports have suggested Murray will seek £6m for his stake, the same figure he paid to buy Rangers in 1988. All parties have insisted, though, that no such figure has been offered or agreed to.
Andrew Ellis, who had initially planned a buy-out of Murray on his own, is expected to be handed 25% of the shares bought by Whyte.
Rangers have been firmly in the grip of Lloyds since the bank looked to halt heavy borrowing by Murray International Holdings (MIH), which is essentially the football club's parent company. Until separation between Rangers and MIH is ensured, cost-cutting will remain in place at Ibrox; if the Whyte deal collapses at the last minute, it is estimated £1m will need to be shaved from Rangers' wage bill this summer. Whyte's plan includes core transfer funding of £25m, spread over five seasons.
Rangers have been delaying the publication of their annual accounts as the takeover edges closer. Club chairman Alastair Johnston has hoped to back up the figures, which are due to be revealed on Thursday in showing a debt reduction of £6m from £27m, with concrete information for supporters regarding the Whyte deal.
One not insignificant matter which remains unresolved is an ongoing investigation by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs relating to offshore, employee benefit trust payments made by Rangers to players.
Sources close to the Whyte camp remain relaxed over that affair, with one possibility that MIH will agree to indemnify Rangers in the event of a penalty – which could reach millions of pounds –being forthcoming.
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