Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino has less than five weeks to kill off a winding-up petition served on the club by David Haigh’s Sport Capital company.
A judge in London is due to consider the petition and rule on Sport Capital’s claim against Leeds at a hearing on June 9, documents seen by the Yorkshire Evening Post show.
Sport Capital – a firm for which Haigh, United’s former managing director, is listed as the sole director – called in a loan of almost £1m around the time of Cellino’s takeover last month.
A statutory demand for more than £957,000 gave Leeds and their Italian owner 21 days to repay the debt, a deadline which United failed to meet.
The club were then served with a winding-up petition 24 hours before their 3-1 win at Birmingham City on April 26.
The six-figure claim places further financial pressure on Cellino, who took control of a 75 per cent stake in United a month ago and has fought to address the legacy of loans and debts created by previous owner Gulf Finance House.
According to Leeds’ most recent financial accounts, loans totalling close to £1.8m were paid to the club by Sport Capital in November after GFH – the Bahraini investment bank which bought United from Ken Bates in December 2012 – agreed to sell a controlling share to the UK-based company.
Sport Capital’s proposed takeover collapsed after Christmas, clearing the way for Cagliari president Cellino to push through his own deal with GFH.
Cellino’s buy-out survived an attempt by the Football League to disqualify him from owning an English club and he completed his takeover on April 7, four days after Sport Capital made its statutory demand for repayment.
The 57-year-old has faced pressing financial issues from the outset at Elland Road, settling a tax bill of more than £500,000 in his first week as owner and paying wages deferred by United’s players and coaching staff at the end of March.
Leeds are known to have faced two winding-up petitions since the turn of the year, one from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and another from shirt sponsor Enterprise Insurance.
Both were successfully dealt with by Cellino.
He will now attempt to prevent Leeds from being hit by a winding-up order at the Royal Courts of Justice in London next month by meeting Sport Capital’s bill.
The amount covered by the winding-up petition falls well short of the £1.775m noted in the
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club’s accounts, with part of the Sport Capital loan believed to be owed to Haigh personally rather than the company itself.
Haigh was a key figure behind GFH’s purchase of Leeds in 2012 and became managing director of the club last July.
His attempt to take control of United under the Sport Capital banner - a group which included Enterprise Insurance managing director Andrew Flowers - ended in failure midway through January. Despite Flowers’ close link to that takeover bid, he is not involved with Sport Capital’s winding-up petition.
Haigh went on to secure the position of Leeds chief executive as part of the deal to sell the club to Cellino but resigned before he could officially take up the post amid comments from Cellino indicating that he planned to sack the 36-year-old.
In his resignation statement, Haigh claimed that some of Sport Capital’s loans would be converted into club shares and then be handed over to supporters of United.
Cellino, meanwhile, is at the start of a crucial summer with major changes to personnel at Elland Road and Thorp Arch expected to follow a Championship season in which Leeds finished 15th.
He owner spoke of the financial strain at United last week, saying: “Our overheads are still too high for a Championship club. Some of them are more like Champions League than Championship.”