Leeds takeover: Massimo Cellino wins his appeal against Football League to move ahead with takeover bid
Cellino was disqualified because of tax offences but has been cleared
Saturday 05 April 2014
Massimo Cellino has won his battle for ownership of Leeds after successfully appealing against the Football League's decision to block his £25million takeover.
Cellino failed the League's owners and directors test after being convicted of tax evasion last month in a Sardinia court.
But an independent lawyer, Tim Kerr QC, has overturned the League's decision and Cellino's two-month wait appears to be over.
The Cagliari owner's company Eleonora Sport exchanged contracts with current owner Gulf Finance House Capital on February 7 to buy 75 per cent of the club's shares.
The League expressed their disappointment at the ruling and said it would "consider the findings of the appeal".
It is uncertain whether the League will launch its own appeal.
A League statement read: "An independent QC has overturned the decision by the board of the Football League that Massimo Cellino is subject to a disqualifying condition under its owners' and directors' test."
A League spokesman said: "We are disappointed at the outcome of the appeal hearing, however we would like to thank the independent QC for his diligence in reviewing this decision.
"This was never about individual personalities, but instead was a matter in which we were obliged to uphold the integrity of our regulations having considered the issue in detail with our advisors.
"It was always an extremely complex matter in which a different interpretation of a judgment made under Italian law could lead to an entirely different outcome in the context of our regulations. Ultimately this has proven to be the case.
"The independent QC has concluded that Mr Cellino's recent conviction in the Sardinian Court did not involve conduct that would 'reasonably be considered to be dishonest' based on information available to him at the current time.
"The Football League will now consider the findings of the hearing."
Cellino's disqualification under the League's owners' and directors' test related to the non-payment of import duties on his yacht and resulted in a fine of 600,000 euros (£500,800) and the confiscation of the boat.
The 57-year-old's lawyers successfully argued that because Cellino had appealed against his tax conviction, he is considered not guilty under Italian law. That appeal process could take up to nine months.
Leeds responded to the successful appeal on the club's official website by stating that Cellino had been granted approval to complete the purchase of a majority stake in the club and that the decision would see Eleonora Sport take a 75% stakeholding, while former majority shareholders GFH Capital and other investors would retain 25%.
Leeds also said completion of the acquisition would see Cellino become club president and that he would head up a new-look board with the club's managing director David Haigh becoming chief executive officer.
Haigh said: "This is a significant day in the history of Leeds United.
"Since GFH Capital took over the club in December 2012, the stated aim has always been to introduce strategic investors to ensure a sustainable future for the club.
"I have met with many potential investors and worked closely with them, and I realised very quickly that Massimo is someone who has the attributes to take this club forward.
"He has a proven track record in Italy, and I believe the introduction of Eleonora Sport, coupled with Massimo's drive and determination, will be key to a successful and sustainable future for this great football club.
"I'd like to thank the Football League, GFH Capital, and of course, Massimo and Eleonora Sport for all their hard work over the past few weeks in ensuring that this deal was able to progress."
GFH Capital and Cellino had been in dispute over who was responsible for the players' wages.
Bahrain-based investment firm GFH Capital, who bought the club from Ken Bates in December 2012, claimed Cellino was responsible for funding the club's running costs under the terms of the deal.
Cellino, understood to have invested more than £10million in the club since contracts were exchanged with GFH Capital, met the club's running costs for January and February.
But he refused to make further funds available following the League's refusal to allow his takeover and fans feared the club was heading towards administration.
Manager Brian McDermott, his backroom staff and players agreed to defer 50 per cent of their March salary until after the appeal had been heard. They were paid an additional 15 per cent of those wages on Thursday.
It emerged earlier this week that Cellino was ready to join forces with a rival consortium, Yorkshire-based Together Leeds.
Mike Farnan, who heads up Together Leeds, told Press Association Sport: "I'm delighted for Massimo.
"This is a joint opportunity. We can now look to work together to get the club moving forward again. His lawyers have told us we will continue our talks next week.
"Let's get moving. I'm really pleased for the fans. I'm so pleased for the fans. It's an exciting package that we can put together."
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