Cellino and Leeds United head to court over winding-up petition

David Haigh, above middle. PIC: James Hardisty
David Haigh, above middle. PIC: James Hardisty
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The winding-up petition hanging over Leeds United will go before a judge in London tomorrow after Sport Capital resisted pressure to withdraw it early.

United’s attempt to avoid payment of a £950,000 loan called in by Sport Capital at the start of April is to be ruled upon in the next 48 hours, potentially clearing the way for the club’s bank to unfreeze their main account.

The legal team working for Leeds owner Massimo Cellino have been pushing Sport Capital to drop its claim after investigating the source and the paperwork behind the six-figure loan.

United will argue that documents relating to the payment in November of last year show it came director from former Leeds managing director David Haigh, rather than from Sport Capital itself.

Haigh, who has links to Sport Capital but is not a director or a shareholder with the Guernsey-based firm, is currently under arrest in Dubai accused of extensive financial irregularities by Gulf Finance House, his previous employer and United’s owner until April.

The 36-year-old denies all the allegations against him, including accusations that he created numerous false invoices during his time as deputy chief executive of GFH Capital, GFH’s private equity arm.

He is yet to be charged with any criminal offences but has been detained in a Dubai Police Station since his arrest on May 18.

The YEP revealed last week that United’s lawyers plan to use the allegation against Haigh to argue that any money loaned to Leeds by him was “potentially proceeds of crime.”

After a brief initial hearing in London today, the case will be decided at a substantive hearing tomorrow.

According to United’s recent accounts, Sport Capital made two loans to the club in November 2013, one of £950,000 and a second of £825,000.

Most of the second loan is understood to have been repaid by Leeds but the £950,000 is still outstanding and has accrued a small amount of interest. Sport Capital served a winding-up petition on Leeds after the club ignored a demand to repay it before April 24.

As a result, Leeds’ bank account was frozen shortly after the petition became public and the club missed a payment to casual staff last month.

They were also forced to delay the playing staff’s wages for May due to Football Association rules preventing clubs from playing players via personal or third-party accounts. United’s squad will not receive their salaries until the winding-up petition is dealt with.

Guise Solicitors, the London firm which submitted the winding-up petition on behalf of Sport Capital, was asked to comment on the case but did not respond.

With United’s finances hamstrung, the disputed petition – the latest of at least three served on the club since the turn of the year, including one from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – has added to the weight of issues facing Cellino.

The Italian is finalising the appointment of a new head coach having parting company with Brian McDermott 10 days ago. He held talks with three candidates over the weekend with a view to naming McDermott’s successor this week.

Among the coaches linked with the job are former Leeds player and manager Gary McAllister and Dave Hockaday, the ex-Forest Green Rovers boss.

McDermott’s assistant, Nigel Gibbs, meanwhile, is still employed by the club with his future yet to be resolved.

Gibbs, who came to Leeds with McDermott in April, 2013, met Cellino at the start of last week but has not been interviewed for the head coach’s post.

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