massimo cellino found guilty as yachtgate throws leeds takeover into the seaBack
Leeds United fans expecting another long day of waiting for news were caught cold over breakfast as the Cellino verdict came through at 8.30am.
Jokes about the drawn out Italian legal process proved misplaced as Cellino was found guilty of evading tax over the purchase of a yacht, Nelie, in a court in Sardinia. He has been fined €600,000 and the yacht – which was impounded – has been confiscated, but more significantly now has an unspent conviction for an offence of dishonesty on his record.
That throws the Cagliari owner’s takeover of Leeds United into jeopardy, as the conviction means he would currently fail the Football League’s Owners and Directors Test.
According to Adam Pope of BBC Leeds, Cellino’s lawyer Giovanni Cocco says his client will appeal, but in the eyes of the Football League that may not be enough to alter the status of his unspent conviction.
The League was widely assumed to be awaiting the outcome of today’s case before deciding whether to approve the sale of 75% of the club from Gulf Finance House to Eleonora Sport, a company controlled by Cellino and his family.
With the verdict delivered, attention is now focused on the Football League and on GFH. There are no indications yet of when the League will deliver a decision – its statement after a board meeting last Thursday said it hoped to make a decision “in the next ten days.”
UPDATE LUNCHTIME: The Football League have released a statement – it’s all of two lines though:
"The Football League has noted the outcome of the Court hearing earlier today regarding Massimo Cellino. We are engaged in an ongoing dialogue with his legal representatives in this country and cannot comment further at this time."
GFH, meanwhile, will see their agreement to sell the club voided if the Football League refuse to allow it to go through. That would leave them with ownership of the club, and ownership of the debts that have accrued to Cellino has he has funded Leeds United over recent weeks – believed to be around £10million. They will also have to find new funding for a club that is believed to be losing £1million a month.
The rival consortium led by Mike Farnan, Together Leeds, has previously complained to the Football League about GFH’s refusal to hear their counter bid to Cellino; while another former bidder, David Haigh, is currently managing director of the club, having left his position with GFH-Capital following the collapse of his joint bid with Andrew Flowers. Haigh was expected to become Chief Executive Officer if Cellino took control.
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