Leeds United: Football League quiet amidst fresh claims over Cellino test

TESTING TIMES: For Leeds United president Massimo Celllino
TESTING TIMES: For Leeds United president Massimo Celllino
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THE Football League has refused to comment on fresh claims that the written judgement from a tax conviction imposed on Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino could put him in breach of the governing body’s owners and directors test.

A spokesman for the League said it was still to receive a copy of a report which is casting renewed doubt over Cellino’s future as majority shareholder at Elland Road.

The 58-year-old bought Leeds in April after successfully appealing against an attempt by the Football League to ban him from taking control of United.

Cellino was disqualified on the basis of a court case in March in which a Sardinian court found him guilty of failing to pay import duty on a private yacht.

An independent QC upheld a subsequent appeal by Cellino on the grounds that he could not be certain if Cellino was guilty of a dishonest offence – the basis on which the Football League disqualifies prospective owners and directors – until the judge hearing the case, Dr Sandra Lepore, published a full written judgement.

Her reasoning was due to be released in mid-June but a delay in receiving it led Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey to speak out this month, saying the absence of the judgement was leaving “a cloud hanging over” Cellino’s buy-out.

The YEP, however, revealed 10 days ago that the League has not formally requested a copy of the report from the court in Cagliari.

League rules require owners and directors to inform it of issues which might breach its regulations, rather than requiring the governing body to look for breaches itself.

But a report in The Guardian newspaper yesterday quoted what it said were extracts from Lepore’s judgement, accusing Cellino of “elusive intent” and “Machiavellian simulation” in avoiding import duty on the yacht, Nelie.

In response, a spokesman for the League said: “The Football League has not yet been provided with a copy of the Italian court’s judgment and therefore cannot make any comment regarding its specific contents at the current time.”

As well as applying its owners and directors test before sanctioning the takeover of a club, the League has the right to order incumbent owners and directors to undertake the examination again at a later date.

Cellino, who has been in charge of United since April 7 and bought the club at a time when they were losing more than £1m a month, has appealed Lepore’s original verdict and continues to maintain that he cannot be classed as guilty until the case passes through three stages of Italian law. He told the YEP that he was yet to see a copy of Lepore’s judgement.

Sources close to the Italian, meanwhile, say he will fight any attempt by the League to oust him from Elland Road.

Norman Hunter clears the ball for Bristol City on their visit to Elland Road to face his former club Leeds United in March 1978. The Robins won 2-0, giving them the double over the Whites having won 3-2 at Ashton Gate the previous October. Picture: Laurie Mercer.

Flashback - Bristol City v Leeds United - When Whites legend Norman Hunter rocked his former club