Leeds United ownership thrown into doubt as League disqualifies Cellino over tax case

Massimo Cellino. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Massimo Cellino. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Leeds United insist the Football League’s decision to disqualify owner Massimo Cellino and ask him to step down from the club as an owner and director is “not in the interests of any party” following today’s dramatic development.

The news comes after the League ruled that the 58-year-old is not fit to continue as the club’s owner and president after receiving detailed evidence from the Italian court that convicted him of tax evasion.

Earlier, Cellino successfully appealed against the League’s decision to block his takeover of Leeds in April.

The League’s board of directors agreed unanimously at a meeting last week, after finally receiving the Italian judge’s written report on Cellino’s conviction for failing to pay tax on his yacht Nellie, that Cellino is “subject to a disqualifying condition under the terms of the Test”.

The League confirmed that Cellino is entitled to appeal within 14 days to the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC).

Under UK law, Cellino’s conviction will be spent in four months’ time in March.

In a statement, Leeds United say the removal of Cellino as owner/director is “de-stabilising for the club, it’s supporters and sponsors.”

Former league chief executive and ex-Leeds CEO and director Shaun Harvey did not take part in the league vote or debate after admitting a conflict of interest.

A statement from the Football League read: “The Board of Directors of The Football League has, once again, considered the position of Leeds United President, Massimo Cellino, under its Owners’ and Directors’ Test.

“Previously (March 2014), the Board had ruled that Mr. Cellino was subject to a disqualifying condition after he was found guilty of an offence under Italian tax legislation relating to the non-payment of import duties on a boat (which resulted in him being fined €600,000). In April 2014, this decision was successfully appealed by Mr. Cellino at a hearing of the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) chaired by an independent QC (sitting alone).

“In reaching his verdict, Tim Kerr QC concluded that: “Mr Cellino has satisfied me that on the facts before me, what he was convicted of was not conduct which would reasonably be considered to be dishonest.” Before going on to state that: “if the reasoned ruling of the court in Cagliari discloses that the conduct of Mr Cellino was such that it would reasonably be considered to be dishonest, he would become subject to a Disqualifying Condition.”

“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 (with the exception of its Chief Executive, Shaun Harvey, who did not take part in the debate or vote having declared an interest) that Mr. Cellino is subject to a disqualifying condition under the terms of the Test.

“Mr. Cellino is entitled to appeal the Board’s decision to the PCC within 14 days. As the Judgment of the Italian Court has not been published in Italy, The Football League will not make any of its contents public.

“Additionally, the Board concluded that it was appropriate to ask an independent Football Disciplinary Commission (FDC) to consider whether Mr. Cellino and/or Leeds United breached League regulations relating to the timely disclosure of relevant information. The matter will be heard by an FDC in due course.”