Leeds United chairman Massimo Cellino has been cleared of charges of tax evasion relating to the transfer of two players during his time as owner of Italian club Cagliari.
Cellino was acquitted by a court in Sardinia today after his lawyers successfully argued that a government ruling introduced last year meant the alleged offences were no longer punishable under Italian law.
The 59-year-old, who is currently fighting a Football League ban owing to a separate tax case, was accused of evading more than £500,000 of tax due from transfers involving ex-Cagliari players Edgar Alvarez and Joe Bizera.
Italian media said an investigation which began in 2007 ended abruptly this morning following a change to Italian law 14 months ago.
United published a statement on their official website saying: “A court ruling in Italy has cleared Leeds United chairman Massimo Cellino of alleged tax evasion during his time as owner of Cagliari.
“The case related to the transfers of former Cagliari players Edgar Alvarez and Joe Bizera.
“A new government ruling which was introduced last October means the alleged offences are no longer punishable by law and Mr Cellino has been acquitted by the court.”
The case was one of several which Cellino has faced since buying a majority stake in Leeds in April 2014.
A conviction for tax evasion related to his private yacht ‘Nelie’ in March of that year prompted the Football League to bar him from running Leeds for most of the second half of last season.
United’s owner is under threat of a second League disqualification after being found guilty in June of failing to pay VAT owed on a Range Rover he imported from the USA to Italy.
Cellino has appealed against his ban and is waiting for a hearing date to be set. He will be hit with a 223-day ban by the Football League if his appeal fails.
Though Cellino has been cleared in the case of Alvarez and Bizera, he continues to face further tax evasion charges relating to a second yacht, Lucky 23.
That case is expected to return to court in Sardinia next month and could lead to further Football League sanctions.
Cellino is also one of several people accused of embezzlement and other offences connected to the construction of the IS Arenas in Cagliari while he owned the Serie A club.
He is due to stand trial over those allegations in March.