Salem Patel, the Leeds United board member and Gulf Finance House’s head of investment management, said this week that he had no immediate plans to return to Elland Road with top-level relationships at the club becoming bitter and fractious.
But Salah Nooruddin, United’s absent chairman, plans to travel to Yorkshire in two weeks’ time and step into the conflict which is rapidly developing between owner Massimo Cellino and minority shareholder GFH.
The Bahraini bank’s spell as owner of Leeds is under scrutiny again with Cellino’s camp claiming to have uncovered irregularities in United’s finances and paperwork in the weeks since the Italian bought a 75 per cent stake in the club.
Last Sunday, David Haigh –the club’s former managing director – was arrested in Dubai, accused of “embezzlement, swindling and breach of trust” by GFH, the bank he worked for as recently as February.
The 36-year-old has been in custody all week and with a public holiday falling in Dubai tomorrow, he is not expected to be released until Monday at the earliest.
GFH has not commented on the details of the allegations against him but they are thought to relate to the bank’s 14-month reign as owner of Leeds and the recent sale of the club to Cellino.
Cellino’s takeover of Leeds was completed without any due diligence but his advisors have closely examined United’s books in the past month-and-a-half and are understood have raised concerns about back-dated contracts given to certain staff and large invoices submitted in GFH’s name.
One report yesterday also claimed that Cellino believes the club’s income was misrepresented ahead of his takeover.
Sources close to Leeds think the Italian businessman is positioning himself to renegotiate the price of a buy-out which committed him to payment of £35m.
Cellino paid GFH £11m for the club and took on short-term debt of £10.5m. That debt is to be paid back in instalments – £2m by December 2015, another £2million by December 2016 and the remaining £6.5m by December 2017.
He also agreed to shoulder £13.5m of long-term debt, though repayment of it will only become due if and when Leeds win promotion to the Premier League. Since acquiring United, however, Cellino has grown increasingly angry about the financial state of a club who are losing more than £1m a month.
His response so far has included the temporary closure of Thorp Arch training ground and a redundancy scheme at Elland Road. Certain senior staff have already been sidelined. Secretary Alison Royston is suspended pending an internal investigation, though the reason for her suspension has not been made public. Luke Dowling – selected as chief scout by manager Brian McDermott – worked closely with Cellino immediately after his takeover but is no longer part of Cellino’s inner circle.
Nooruddin, the Bahraini businessman who holds shares in United and GFH, has been absent from Elland Road since Christmas, despite sitting as the club’s chairman, but he told the YEP that he would continue in his role and was planning to come to Leeds next month.
“I’m coming over in two weeks’ time,” he said. “This is a transitional period and Mr Cellino is very much hands on now but under the share purchase agreement, certain matters will still be referred to the board.”
Nooruddin refused to comment on Haigh’s arrest, saying it was “for GFH to speak about.”
He and Patel remain on a six-man board at Leeds, alongside Cellino, his two sons Edoardo and Ercole and Cellino’s American advisor, Daniel Arty.