The Football League have today reached a verdict over the ownership of Championship side Leeds United. The Yorkshire side have been trying since February to reach agreement for Italian businessman Massimo Cellino to take over their club, with a 75% stake agreed, subject to Football League ratification.
The situation has been complicated by Cellino's court case in Italy, which resulted in him being found guilty of tax evasion last week, after he failed to pay import duty on a yacht. That appeared to put him in breach of the League's Fit and Proper Persons Test, and the League have now confirmed this, indicating that they will block the club's takeover:
"At its meeting yesterday evening, the Board of The Football League considered the eligibility of Massimo Cellino under its Owners' and Directors' Test. The Board considered detailed legal advice with regard to the application of its regulations within the context of a decision made under Italian law.
Mr. Cellino was recently found guilty beyond reasonable doubt by a Court in Sardinia of an offence under Italian tax legislation relating to the non-payment of import duties on a boat. This resulted in a fine of 600,000 Euros, an order for the payment of trial costs and the confiscation of the boat in question.
Having fully considered the matter, the Board agreed unanimously that the decision of the Italian Court does constitute a disqualifying condition under its Owners' and Directors' Test. The relevant disqualifying condition being that Massimo Cellino has been convicted of an offence involving acts that would reasonably be considered to be dishonest.
In line with Football League regulations, Massimo Cellino is entitled to appeal against the Board's decision within 14 days. In such circumstances, The League would seek to expedite the process to deliver certainty to all parties in the shortest possible timeframe."
Assuming Cellino is not successful in his appeal, that would then leave Leeds in limbo, with current owners GFH Holdings having previously indicated that they are desperate to sell the club. Cellino has reportedly put in £6 million of his own money since exchanging contracts on February 7th, but will presumably now want his money back.
On top of that, Leeds are believed to be losing in the region of £1 million per month, bringing into question exactly who will be underwriting their losses. Delays in Cellino's takeover bid had brought up the question of 'administration' - with the deal now dead, the question will be what GFH's next move will be. Currently they are in a solid mid-table position in the Championship table - sat in 13th place and 12 points off the play-offs and 15 points above the relegation line.
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