Massimo Cellino, the Leeds United owner, could sidestep the Football League’s decision to disqualify him from running the club by employing proxy owners until he is entitled to return next March.
The League asked him to resign from the Championship club on Monday after obtaining additional documents from an Italian court which had found the 58-year-old guilty of tax evasion, meaning he had failed the League’s “fit and proper” ownership test. He has 14 days to lodge an appeal.
Cellino was fined €600,000 (£502,000) in March this year after being found guilty of failing to pay import duty on his yacht.
Cellino will be entitled to return to the club on 18 March next year when the conviction is spent under UK law, providing him with the opportunity to install others to run the club on his behalf, on a temporary basis. His sons Edoardo and Ercole are both named directors of the Elland Road club.
The Italian confirmed last night he would appeal against the League’s ruling, while he insisted he had no intention of selling up. Leeds also accused the League of “destabilising” the club.
“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,” Cellino said.
“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.
“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 on Leeds United.”
Cellino earlier told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “We are not selling the club, not because of this. This doesn’t change anything.
“Massimo Cellino does not own Leeds. My family company owns Leeds. It is my family’s money which bought the club, not my money.
“If my family company asks me to step back for two or three months then I’ll step back. If that has to happen then I’ll do it.”
Leeds is owned by Cellino’s family company, Eleanora Sport Limited, which in April bought 75 per cent of the club’s shares from the previous owners, Bahrain investment firm Gulf Finance House, which still controls a 25 per cent stake. The League initially attempted to block Cellino’s takeover of Leeds after his tax conviction in April, but the Italian successfully appealed.
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.
In announcing its decision to bar Cellino, 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.”
The latest news provides another grim chapter in what has already been a turbulent season on and off the pitch. Last month, Neil Redfearn was appointed as head coach – their third manager of the season. Former Forest Green coach Dave Hockaday started the campaign in charge but he was sacked after just six games, while his successor – Slovenian Darko Milanic – was also shown the door after failing to win any of his six games at the helm.
Supporters reacted to the latest news with dismay. The Leeds United Supporters Trust called on the League and Cellino “not to engage in endless legal struggles that ultimately benefit no one”.
Leeds divided: Cellino’s time at Elland Road
31 January 2014
Prospective buyer Massimo Cellino sacks Brian McDermott as manager. It later emerges the decision was invalid as it was done without the board’s agreement and before the Italian had bought the club.
Cellino completes his takeover after months of legal wrangles.
McDermott departs by mutual consent as the club finish 15th.
Cellino surprisingly appoints former Forest Green coach Dave Hockaday as manager.
Cellino claims Ross McCormack forced a transfer to Fulham, although the club receive £11m.
Cellino demands players must live in the city of Leeds and stay in a hotel before home games.
Hockaday is sacked following four defeats in the club’s opening six matches of the season.
Cellino appoints former Maribor and Sturm Graz coach Darko Milanic as manager, despite good form under caretaker Neil Redfearn.
After a lacklustre home defeat to Wolves, Cellino sacks Milanic and reinstates Redfearn, this time as permanent head coach.
Cellino watches the 2-0 home win over leaders Derby with Hollywood star Verne Troyer.
Cellino disqualified by Football League and asked to resign.Reuse content