Yorkshire Evening Post 24/2/15
Massimo Cellino will delay his return as Leeds United president beyond the end of his ownership ban and bring “independent action” against a Football League ruling barring him from running the club.
Cellino, who was disqualified by the Football League after a failed appeal last month, is challenging the order via the Football Association’s arbitration process - but Leeds say he will do so alone and independently in order to “help the club avoid any sanctions” and keep them out of a long-running battle.
The 58-year-old is forbidden from exerting any influence over United until April 10, a 79-day ban imposed on him over his conviction for tax evasion in an Italian court last March.
Cellino claimed in the aftermath of his failed appeal that he would resume control of Leeds as soon as his disqualification ended but in a lengthy statement issued last night he said he would remain estranged from the club until his FA arbitration case was settled.
A previous appeal against his ban was rejected by the Football League’s Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) on January 15 but FA rule K gives Cellino provision to contest it again.
The former Cagliari owner has so far complied with his disqualification by quitting United’s board and resigning as a director of Eleonora Sport, the UK firm used to front his 75 per cent takeover of Leeds 10 months ago.
Cellino’s statement revealed that he had sold a “minority stake” in the club since his ban was enforced, though it did not reveal who those shares had been sold to.
Cellino said: “At first I suggested that my intention was to resume in April the office of president of Leeds United after expiration of the disqualification term.I will not do so and I had actually decided not to do so in January, soon after the confirmation by the Football League of its verdict.
“My decision has developed because I have realised that about one year ago I had been admitted as president of the club when (Leeds were) very close to insolvency.
“Only after my restructuring activities I found myself expelled from the club on the basis of interpretation and immediate application of an Italian measure that, although in Italy is ineffective and subject to reasonable cancellation, the Football League has elected to enforce under its own rules.”
Early last year, Cellino was found guilty by a judge in Cagliari of evading payment of VAT due on a private yacht.
He attempted to persuade the Football League that the offence was not formally classed as a conviction in Italy until it passed through three stages of Italian law but his argument was rejected by a three-man PCC panel.
Cellino’s statement added: “Moreover, while I am already ousted, the Football League is now pursuing a new claim against me based on circumstances that do not belong to me and have already been clarified and heavily stigmatized by my lawyers.”
Cellino did not explain what the “new claim” related to but he face further punishment over the long delay in providing the Football League with documents from the Cagliari court case.
Both Cellino and the club have been charged with misconduct by the Football League and the matter will be dealt with by a Football Disciplinary Commission at a later date.
Cellino’s ban on January 15 was swiftly followed by the appointment of Andrew Umbers as United’s new chairman and speaking in a separate statement yesterday, Umbers said: “Massimo Cellino has made a decision to separately, and in his own name, challenge the Football League’s decision to reject his appeal and challenge its correctness in law.
“Subsequent to the appeal hearing on January 15, he has abided by (Football League) rulings on disqualification and has also disposed of any personal ‘interests’ in Eleonora Immobiliare SPA and Eleonora Sport Ltd (the majority shareholder of LUFC).
“Massimo Cellino is taking this independent action so that LUFC is seen to be fully compliant with the Football League rules and thus help the football club avoid any sanctions.
“LUFC are optimistic as to the outcome of the disciplinary panel hearing and of the rule K Hearing.”
United have not given any timescale for the FA arbitration hearing but Cellino appears ready to extend his absence from Elland Road as his fight with the Football League goes on.
The two sides have been at odds ever since the League tried and failed to block his original buy-out of Leeds last year.
A spokesman for the FA told the YEP: “Unfortunately, where Rule K is used (we) are not in a position to confirm whether any parties are subject to this.”