The Football League has confirmed that it will lift Massimo Cellino’s pending 223-day ban as owner of Leeds United once it receives written evidence of his acquittal in the court case which led to his suspension.
Cellino appears to have avoided a second disqualification as majority shareholder at Elland Road after Italy’s Court of Appeal cleared him on Monday of evading tax on a Range Rover imported by him from the USA.
A judge in Cagliari originally found Cellino guilty of that charge last June but a change to Italian legislation, effectively decriminalising the offence, led to his acquittal this week.
The Football League, which previously banned Cellino in 2015 for a different tax offence, used the Range Rover case to disqualify him for a period of 223 days last October.
Cellino was fighting that penalty via an appeal to the League and also through the Football Association’s Rule K arbitration process and he has not served a day of it but the decision to clear him of tax evasion will prompt the League cancel his latest ban.
The League only has the power to ban owners and directors of its 72 member clubs for ‘dishonest’ criminal offences.
The governing body is still to receive written documentation from Italy’s Court of Appeal but Cellino’s acquittal was discussed at a meeting of the League’s board earlier today and in a statement it said it would withdraw his disqualification if the verdict confirmed his innocence.
Cellino has had the Range Rover returned to him having seen it confiscated last June and he will no longer be asked to pay a fine of 40,000 Euros.
The League’s statement read: “At its meeting today, the Football League board discussed matters relating to the pending disqualification of Leeds United president Massimo Cellino, in light of (this) week's verdict in the Italian court.
“The board determined that Mr Cellino’s disqualification - under the Owners and Directors Test - will no longer apply if the written judgement of the court, which the League is yet to see, confirms that Mr Cellino has been acquitted of this offence following recent changes to Italian law which have decriminalised certain offences with retrospective effect.”
The development is a significant boost for Cellino who served his previous ban during the second half of last season and has been fighting pressure on several fronts this term.
The 59-year-old continues to face charges of embezzlement in a different case in Italy, a case which is due to resume next week, but the threat of an immediate disqualification - potentially at the very start of the summer transfer window - looks to have been lifted.
Neither Leeds nor Cellino have made any comment about his successful appeal.
In January 2015, the Football League disqualified him until April of that year after he was found guilty in Cagliari of failing to pay more than £300,000 of tax owed on a private yacht called ‘Nelie’.
That punishment was later extended to the end of the 2014-15 season after the League found that Cellino had failed to provide it with court documents from that case at the earliest opportunity.