Yorkshire Evening Post 17/12/14
Leeds United and the Football League are likely to agree a schedule for Massimo Cellino’s appeal against his ownership disqualification before the end of this week.
The club and the governing body are working to finalise a timeframe for Cellino’s hearing after United’s owner lodged an appeal a few hours before the deadline set for him to contest the ban.
Cellino was disqualified by the Football League 10 days ago and barred from acting as owner or director of Leeds until March of next year due to tax conviction imposed on him in Italy.
The 58-year-old was found guilty of evading VAT owed on a private yacht nine months ago, a conviction which the Football League believes is in breach of its Owners and Directors Test.
Cellino was given 14 days to accept the ban or confirm his intention to fight it and the Football League received an appeal from his legal team shortly before the cut-off point on Monday night.
The League had initially hoped to see any appeal arranged and heard before December 29, the date on which Cellino has been ordered to formally resign from the board at Elland Road, but the case could now run into the new year.
The League, however, still expects Cellino to quit as a Leeds director by Monday, December 29, regardless of whether his challenge is pending.
Cellino told the YEP last week that he was willing to leave United’s board within the League’s timeframe to avoid the club incurring further punishment.
“I’m prepared to resign if it’s what I have to do,” Cellino said.
“‘I said to the other directors that I don’t want to bring any problems on the club so if I have to resign in 28 days and then wait to finish my appeal, I will.
“I’m fighting this and we think we will win so after the appeal I will be back.”
In his challenge against disqualification, Cellino will argue that his punishment for tax evasion is not classed as a conviction under Italian law until it has passed through two stages of appeal.
The case, in which Cellino was found guilty of failing to pay more than £300,000 of tax due on a yacht called ‘Nelie’, is presently in the first stage of appeal.
The Football League’s Professional Conduct Committee will be given responsibility for upholding or quashing his ownership ban but a decision in favour of the League would have profound consequences for both Cellino and United.
His tax conviction will be spent under UK law on March 18, allowing him to regain full control at Elland Road in three months’ time, but he is facing two similar tax charges in Italy, both of which could lead to further 12-month disqualifications under Football League rules.
Cellino has repeatedly insisted that he will not be forced into selling Leeds but he is yet to comment on who will run the club in his absence if he steps down in the short term.
He bought a 75 per cent stake in Leeds through a UK firm, Eleonora Sport Limited, in April.
Cellino attended an unrelated Football League function at Wembley yesterday, alongside the governing body’s chief executive, Shaun Harvey.
Harvey - the former Leeds CEO - was present to award a £250,000 January transfer fund to one of nine clubs shortlisted by Football League sponsor Sky Bet.
Leeds were in the running for the prize despite the Football League announcing 24 hours earlier that United would face a transfer embargo next month due to financial losses of almost £23m last season.
The £250,000 was won by Nottingham Forest, another Championship club who will be subjected to an embargo in January.