Cellino plans appeal of failed test

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Published: Monday 1st December 2014 by The News Editor

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Leeds president Massimo Cellino has said he will appeal against the Football League’s ruling that he failed its Owners and Directors’ Test and has vowed to never “give up on Leeds United”.

The League announced on Monday that Cellino has failed its test after finally receiving further evidence from the Italian judge who convicted him for tax evasion in March.

Judge Sandra Lepore concluded in her written report that Cellino had acted dishonestly when failing to pay tax on his yacht and the League has ruled Cellino must resign from his position immediately. He has 14 days to lodge an appeal.

The 58-year-old will be entitled to return to the club on March 18 next year when the conviction is spent under UK law.

Leeds have responded by accusing the League of “destabilising” the club, while a defiant Cellino insisted he has no intention of selling his 75 per cent stake.

“If I can go (to games) as the president, I’ll go as the president. I’m talking about the law, not some lawyers that don’t know what they’re talking about,” he told Sky Sports News HQ.

“It’s the law that will allow me to go and if not I will go like a supporter and pay for my ticket. I’m never going to give up Leeds United.”

When asked if he would ignore any punishment handed out by the League, Cellino added: “I’m not going to ignore it. I’m not like that.

“I’m going to respect everything. I’m going to appeal. I’m going to show them they are wrong and I’m sure that the lawyers of the League have not done a proper job.

“I’m not dishonest. I’m not guilty yet, that’s it. If I’m going to have to buy a ticket to watch the game I will do it.”

The League’s decision to disqualify Cellino from having any influence on decision-making at the club will prove difficult to enforce, according to sports lawyer Richard Cramer.

Cramer, principal of Leeds-based law firm Front Row Legal, said the League will not have taken its decision lightly but was “duty-bound” to explain exactly how their decision will be enforced.

“It seems the Football League are determined to make life very difficult for him and want to send out a very strong message that they can stop people from running football clubs under their ‘Owners and Directors’ Test’,” he said.

“It is unprecedented. The League usually applies the test before a takeover takes place and I don’t know how it will police its ruling.

“Mr Cellino is the owner and sole director in terms of any decisions made at the club and the League won’t allow someone to run it for him. This is clearly uncharted territory.

“The Football League has not just thought this up overnight, it must have thought through all the ramifications.

“But I think it’s duty-bound to explain how the process will work in more detail. A lot of people will be asking a lot of questions about how the club will run itself day-to-day from here.”

Leeds is owned by Cellino’s family company, Eleanora Sport Limited, which in April bought 75 per cent of the club’s shares from previous owners, Bahrain investment firm Gulf Finance House, which still controls a 25 per cent stake.

Cellino is currently in Bahrain holding talks with GFH, who he said had agreed to contribute £5million towards Eleanora Sports’ new £20million investment in the club.

Press Association Sport understands that Eleanora Sport could install a new management structure at Elland Road to satisfy the League’s ruling and it was up to them to find a solution.

The League initially attempted to block Cellino’s takeover of Leeds after his tax conviction in April, but the Italian successfully appealed.

But the judge who over-ruled the League’s decision, Tim Kerr QC, said if it was later concluded Cellino had acted dishonestly when failing to pay import duty on his yacht, he would fail the ‘Owners and Directors’ Test’.

Cellino faces a second similar charge of tax evasion on another yacht. The latest court case in Sardinia was adjourned in late October and it is understood a new date has yet to be confirmed.

The League has also asked an independent disciplinary commission to consider whether Cellino and/or Leeds breached League regulations by not disclosing relevant information in a timely manner.

The Football League said in a statement: “At its meeting last week, the board considered the reasoned judgment of the Italian court against Mr Cellino, having successfully applied to the Italian courts for its full disclosure.

“The board considered detailed legal advice and agreed unanimously….that Mr Cellino is subject to a disqualifying condition under the terms of the (Owners’ and Directors’) Test.

“As the judgment of the Italian court has not been published in Italy, the Football League will not make any of its contents public.”

Published: Monday 1st December 2014 by The News Editor

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