Leeds United are braced for a bitter legal fight with Ken Bates after sacking him as club president in a dispute over a private jet contract.
United’s owner, GFH Capital, is preparing for a long and potentially costly confrontation following Bates’ dramatic dismissal late on Friday night.
Leeds announced that their former owner and chairman had “ceased to be president” just 25 days into the three-year term agreed when he sold United to GFH Capital last December.
The Elland Road club refused to outline the reasons for his departure but Bates drew the battle lines on Saturday by revealing that he was sacked for arranging a six-figure deal for flights between Leeds and his home in Monte Carlo.
The contract – negotiated by Bates with private charter firm Jet 247 days before he stepped down as United’s chairman on June 30 – is thought to have committed Leeds to a bill of around £500,000 for the next three years, an expense which the club’s new board refused to sanction and saw as a breach of the 81-year-old’s authority.
A similar travel deal had previously been in place for most of Bates’ eight-and-a-half-year reign as chairman.
The private charter fee was a key reason behind GFH Capital’s decision to end Bates’ brief tenure as president but United’s majority shareholder is thought to be unhappy with other issues concerning him. Bates said his sacking had “no validity”.
The former Chelsea owner is currently on holiday in Italy but will fly to England tomorrow and was planning to be at Elland Road as president this weekend to attend United’s first game of the Championship season against Brighton.
He was informed of GFH Capital’s concerns in a letter delivered to him last Wednesday, two days before his dismissal, but was not aware of the plan to sack him.
In a radio interview yesterday, Bates said: “When I sold the club to GFH, part of the contract was that they would pay my expenses in the same manner which I’d been paid expenses for the last eight years. I don’t take a salary and never have done.
“I had a chance to renew my travel contract at a price that was cheaper and I checked with a solicitor who confirmed that a director had the authority to commit a club or a company (to the contract). So I did.
“That was on June 27. On July 24 I had a hand-delivered letter telling me I had broken the agreement and asking me for my comments. I rang the solicitor concerned and said there was a perfectly reasonable explanation, let’s have a board meeting when I get back (from holiday). Then I got another letter telling me they’d terminated my contract.
“In all that time not one person rung me from GFH to discuss the matter. I’ve spoken to one of their directors on a fairly regular basis and he didn’t even mention it. That’s most unusual conduct.
“There’s nothing I can do about it until I get back and then we’ll see what happens. But the real problem I suspect is that they haven’t been doing well recently as far as running the club is concerned and this is a diversion tactic to take the real problems off the headlines. There’s no validity in this and a degree of viciousness, quite clearly. Someone’s got a screw loose.”
GFH Capital declined to respond to Bates’ comments when contacted by the YEP, with a spokesman saying that it was adhering to a strict confidentiality agreement, but the YEP understands that GFH is anticipating a protracted legal battle with the man the firm bought Leeds from in a multi-million pound takeover seven months ago.
The relationship between the club’s owners past and present has grown increasingly cold since December, with GFH Capital removing many of Bates’ most trusted staff.
Shaun Harvey lost his job as chief executive on July 1 and, despite remaining as a director, is expected to sever all ties with Leeds in the near future. Long-time finance director Yvonne Todd has left Elland Road after giving up her seat on the board in April and technical director Gwyn Williams – a close colleague of Bates’ at both United and Chelsea – was placed on gardening leave earlier this month.
Bates, meanwhile, was frustrated by the collapse of a deal which would have seen him acquire United’s official website, their in-house radio station Yorkshire Radio and the club’s online television channel LUTV for a sum of £2million.
Bates believed he and Leeds had struck an agreement in March but his proposal was wrecked by the recent announcement that BBC Radio Leeds had regained matchday commentary rights, previously held exclusively by Yorkshire Radio.