Leeds United: Cellino’s team try to save bid

Massimo Cellino
Massimo Cellino
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Massimo Cellino’s lawyers are fighting to keep his takeover of Leeds United alive with the Italian’s conviction for tax evasion threatening to open the club up to rival bids before the end of the week.

Massimo Cellino’s lawyers are fighting to keep his takeover of Leeds United alive with the Italian’s conviction for tax evasion threatening to open the club up to rival bids before the end of the week.

At least one group of prospective buyers – the Together Leeds consortium, led by Mike Farnan – are monitoring events at Elland Road in the wake of a court ruling against Cellino in Sardinia yesterday. (March 18)

The 57-year-old was fined around £500,000 after a judge found him guilty of failing to pay more than £300,000 in import duty on a luxury yacht he bought in 2010.

Justice Sandra Lepore also ruled that the yacht should be confiscated.

Cellino’s Italian lawyer, Giovanni Cocco, told the YEP that he would challenge the verdict – a process which could as long as a year – and said Cellino would be considered innocent under Italian law until an appeal against his conviction was heard.

But the Football League, which stands between Cellino and a 75 per cent buy-out of Leeds, was in touch with his legal representatives after yesterday’s hearing as it began establishing whether the court’s judgement will prevent him from passing its Owners and Directors test.

Cellino needs approval from the Football League to formally complete a £25m takeover which has been pending since he and United owner Gulf Finance House (GFH) agreed the terms of the sale on February 7.

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The collapse of his deal could have major implications for Leeds who are losing money and have used cash from Cellino to fund wages and operating costs during the past two months. GFH has refused to comment on whether it has other options available to it if Cellino’s takeover fails but a source close to Together Leeds told the YEP last night that it had funding in place to make an immediate offer, almost five months after an initial bid was turned down by GFH.

Together Leeds is fronted by ex-Manchester United International managing director Mike Farnan and also involves Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity and Adam Pearson, the former chairman of Hull City.

The group made a bid for Leeds in November – reported to be worth £7m and rejected by GFH as “risible” – but insisted that they were unable to table a second offer as GFH first considered the failed Sport Capital buy-out and then began talks with Cellino in January.

Leeds chairman and GFH shareholder Salah Nooruddin appeared to dismiss Together Leeds in an interview with the YEP last month, saying: “Their first offer was ridiculous. When they saw we were going to complete a deal with someone serious they made more noise.

“But it was too late. At GFH we didn’t feel it would be good to get into another long round of negotiations.”

GFH was asked to comment on Cellino’s conviction for tax evasion last night but did not respond. The bank’s chief executive, former United director Hisham Alrayes, is understood to be in the UK after travelling from Bahrain last week.

Cellino’s fine was lower than the sum of around £1million which prosecutors in Sardinia asked the court to impose but Cocco vowed to fight the decision and said an appeal could take 12 months to go through the Italian courts.

Cocco said: “With regard to the judgment, I declare that I consider it unjust and that I will (appeal).

“Cellino in the Italian legal system is innocent until after final judgment that will take place only after the appeal and the supreme court. The decision of the appeal shall not occur before nine to 12 months.”

A decision from the Football League, however, is likely to come quickly after the governing body announced last Thursday that expected to approve or reject Cellino’s deal within 10 days.

The League is awaiting full details of the conviction before making a final announcement. The judge has 90 days to explain her judgement in full.

A spokesman for the League said: “The Football League has noted the outcome of the court hearing regarding Massimo Cellino.

“We are engaged in an on-going dialogue with his legal representatives in this country and cannot comment further at this time.”

Paul Heckingbottom

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