The Football League is awaiting court documents from Italy after Leeds United co-owner Massimo Cellino was cleared of wrongdoing in the legal case which led the governing body to ban him from running the club in 2015.
The High Court in Rome has quashed a conviction for tax evasion imposed on Cellino by a judge in Cagliari in the case involving the luxury yacht ‘Nelie’.
Cellino was found guilty in March 2014 of failing to pay around £300,000 of VAT owed on a boat imported by him from the USA, a conviction which put him in breach of the Football League’s Owners and Directors Test.
The League tried and failed to use that offence to block his 75 per cent takeover of Leeds but lost its argument after an arbitration hearing chaired by Tim Kerr QC. With Kerr’s approval, Cellino took control of United in April 2014.
Cellino, however, was subsequently hit with an ownership ban and forced to resign from United’s board after the Football League used the written judgement from the ‘Nelie’ case to prove that he was guilty of a dishonest offence and in breach of its regulations.
Cellino, who argued at the time that the League should not view his offence as a conviction until it had passed through every stage of the Italian appeals process, duly served a suspension between January and May in 2015.
The 60-year-old has recently been cleared of similar tax charges on the basis of changes to Italian law decriminalising certain offences. It is not yet clear if the ‘Nelie’ conviction was overturned on the same grounds and the League is seeking paperwork from Rome in an effort to analyse the verdict.
An EFL spokesman told the YEP: “We are aware of the media reports about the 'Nellie' tax case and await sight of the judgement before commenting further.”
Cellino’s successful appeal could potentially renew his conflict with the Football League, which refused to accept his claim that an offence in Italy was not official until it had first been appealed.
That claim was similarly rejected in Kerr’s written verdict allowing Cellino’s takeover of United to proceed.
Giorgio Altieri, an Italian lawyer representing Cellino, confirmed his successful appeal, saying: “Massimo Cellino has been acquitted in Italy from any criminal offence related to yacht 'Nelie'. The final decision has been rendered by the Italian High Court last Thursday, January 25.
“Massimo Cellino's Italian lawyers, Giovanni Cocco and Giorgio Altieri, are quite satisfied since they had persistently maintained MC’s innocence and served an appeal with more than 20 grounds.”