MacLennan’s INM role sparks row between Celtic and Rangers

Chairman of both Scottish league and media company attacked over ‘conflict of interest’

Murdoch MacLennan, chairman of Independent News and Media, with board member Mary Gallagher at the company’s agm in Dublin this year. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Murdoch MacLennan, chairman of Independent News and Media, with board member Mary Gallagher at the company’s agm in Dublin this year. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Rangers Football Club has called for an investigation into what it alleges is a conflict of interest between Scottish Professional Football League chairman Murdoch MacLennan and Celtic’s major shareholder, Dermot Desmond.

Mr MacLennan was appointed chairman of Independent News & Media (INM) in March following the departure of Leslie Buckley in a turbulent period for the media giant and amid an ongoing investigation by the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

Mr Desmond is Celtic’s biggest shareholder, as well as INM’s second-largest shareholder with a 15 per cent stake.

In a statement on Rangers’ website, club chairman Dave King said there was “concern” that Mr MacLennan, as chairman of the league, also had business links to Celtic’s major shareholder.

“The club notes with concern the latest disclosure through the media regarding a business relationship which the chairman of the SPFL has with leading shareholders of a fellow SPFL club,” he said.

“This has given rise to allegations of nondisclosure and it is now imperative that we discover exactly the nature of the information supplied to the SPFL regarding this relationship.

“It is equally important that any conflicts of interest, or even the perception of such, whereby positions within the Scottish football authorities could be undermined, or abused, must be aggressively rooted out of our game.”

Mr Desmond has been contacted by The Irish Times for comment.

Mr King said the SPFL should “immediately suspend” Mr MacLennan pending an independent investigation by a senior QC into the allegations, and into “the extent that other parties within the SPFL may have co-operated in this alleged nondisclosure”.

‘Prima facie case’

“There is a clear prima facie case for this investigation,” he said. “The credibility of Scottish football in the minds of supporters and sponsors is at stake and urgent action is required.

“Transparency will be key to recovering the confidence of key stakeholders in Scottish football and this cannot be achieved if ... the SPFL conduct internal investigations.

“The SPFL ... must now appoint independent investigators. Scottish football is an important national asset and must have levels of probity and governance that are beyond reproach and that are transparently so.”

In response, the SPFL said no investigation was necessary. “It’s not surprising that Murdoch, having stepped down as deputy chairman of Telegraph Media Group, should be approached by other businesses in that sector,” it said.

“The members of the SPFL board were each informed of Murdoch’s appointment on January 19th, 2018, the same day it was publicly announced in a press release from Independent News & Media. That release was also circulated to the entire SPFL board that day.

“The appointment was widely reported in the national media at the time, including in the Sunday Times, Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Independent. No director raised this issue subsequently and it was not the subject of any board discussions.

“To be definitive, a nonexecutive position on a PLC does not constitute a business relationship between that individual and a minority shareholder in the company, and therefore no investigation is warranted.”