Massimo Cellino has confirmed that he will appeal against the Football League’s attempt to ban him from owning Leeds United, warning last night that the governing body would face legal action if it refused to back down.
In an outspoken interview, Cellino said he was preparing to challenge to the dramatic decision made by the Football League which barred him from acting as an owner or director of Leeds almost eight months on from his original takeover.
At a meeting held last week, the League’s board voted unanimously to disqualify Cellino after reviewing the written judgement from a tax conviction imposed on the 58-year-old by a court in Cagliari in March.
Despite that guilty verdict, Cellino’s 75 per cent buy-out of United went through on appeal in April after an independent QC ruled that the absence of paperwork from Italy meant the League was unable to prove that his tax offence was dishonest.
But the League subsequently secured a copy of the judgement through the Italian Court of Appeal and it moved to ban Cellino during a meeting of its on Thursday.
Cellino was given a fortnight to appeal that ruling but ordered to confirm his resignation from the board at Elland Road within 28 days.
The sudden announcement cast severe doubt on his ownership of Leeds amid questions about whether the disqualification would force him to sell his majority stake.
But speaking last night, United’s president said he would fight the decision on the grounds that the Football League was wrong to consider his punishment in Italy a formal conviction.
The ex-Cagliari president received a fine of around £500,000 after failing to pay import duty owed on a private yacht called ‘Nelie’.
Cellino is contesting that verdict and claims that he will not be considered guilty in his homeland until the case has passed through three separate stages of Italian law.
The QC who approved Cellino’s takeover of Leeds on appeal in April, Tim Kerr, dismissed that argument in his final judgement, saying the League was right to see Cellino as the subject of a criminal conviction but could not prove that his tax evasion was dishonest.
Cellino, however, said: “I have to appeal. My lawyers are going to appeal because this is all a big mistake from the start.
“The lawyers that are advising the League made a mistake in the beginning. And to cover their first mistake, they keep making the same mistake.
“I don’t want to show myself to be impolite. I don’t want to be arrogant. I want to follow the rules. I respect the rules but if we’re talking about the law, I like to be submitted to a true charge where we talk about the law.
“The rules are controlled by the League. The law is controlled by judges.
“I’m honest and I can show every day how I run my club, how I pay my bills, how I fix the club. I’m not here because I’m making money but because I took the challenge to run this club in the
proper way. And I’m doing that. So I hope the League is going to stop.”
The Football League has disqualified Cellino until March 18, 2015, the date on which his Italian conviction for tax evasion will be declared spent under UK law.
Talking immediately after the League’s announcement on Monday, Cellino vowed to step away from Leeds in the short-term if he failed to overturn the his ban, leaving United in the hands of Eleonora Sport, the firm used by him to buy a 75 per cent stake in United from Gulf Finance House.
But he was more bullish last night, admitting that he would consider taking legal action against the Football League should an appeal prove unsuccessful.
“I don’t blame the League or even my colleagues on the (League) board because they follow the lawyers,” Cellino said.
“But they should ask other lawyers for another opinion because everyone I speak to tells me I’m in the right.
“I have the right to defend myself and my family. They are doing something very bad to me and my name. If they don’t stop, I am going to sue them. I cannot let them do what they’re doing.”
Cellino, meanwhile, claimed again that he had resolved his differences with Gulf Finance House and negotiated a deal which would see the Bahraini bank - a minority shareholder at Elland Road - contribute to a cash injection of around £20m.
Cellino travelled to Bahrain for talks over the weekend and said the new agreement with GFH would be ratified at a club board next Tuesday.