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Massimo Cellino Loses Football League Appeal

Mon 19th Jan 2015 | Clubs Ownership

Leeds United owner, Massimo Cellino, has lost his appeal against the Football League’s decision to disqualify him under the Owners’ and Directors’ Test.

Cellino, who took over at Leeds in April 2014, was disqualified by the Football League in December 2014 for an act involving dishonesty after he was found guilty of an offence under Italian tax legislation relating to the non-payment of import duties on a boat. 

A Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) chaired by Tim Kerr QC rejected his appeal against the decision by the Board of The Football League. 

The PCC found that the reasoned judgment of the Italian Court, once it had become available, was for an act involving dishonesty as determined by the Board in its original ruling in March 2014.  
  
Mr. Cellino’s appeal against that original decision had been upheld on the basis that it could not be concluded that the offence necessarily involved a ‘Dishonest Act’ for the purposes of the Test. 

Once the reasoned judgment became available, the Board considered the matter again and concluded that it clearly demonstrated that Mr. Cellino’s offence did indeed involve acts that would reasonably be considered to be dishonest. 
  
In its judgment, dismissing Mr Cellino’s appeal against the decision, the PCC states, “We consider that the judge’s findings of fact and her description of Mr.  Cellino’s state of mind based on them, is of conduct which would reasonably be considered to be dishonest. 

“We therefore conclude that Mr.Cellino has been convicted of an offence involving a ‘Dishonest Act’ within the meaning of the rules, and that he is accordingly subject to a ‘Disqualifying Condition’. 
  
As a result of this decision, Massimo Cellino is disqualified from acting as a ‘Relevant Person’, as defined by Football League regulations until 10th April 2015. 

The Football League will provide any assistance requested by Leeds United to help it minimise, as far as possible, the effect this decision has on the Club while Mr. Cellino serves his period of disqualification. 
  
A Football League spokesman said, "The Football League's sole objective throughout this process has been to ensure that our regulations, as democratically approved by our member clubs, are complied with. 

“These regulations uphold principles relating to club ownership that are widely recognised to be in the interests of the game and have the support of the other football authorities, the Government and football supporters generally.” 
  
In response to the decision, Leeds United released the following statement, “Mr Cellino would like to thank the fans, sponsors and members of the wider footballing community that have given him overwhelming support, not just since the disqualifying order was issued but since he arrived at the club.

“We are surprised and disappointed by the verdict, however we are continuing to take legal advice.

“We will release further statements in due course.”

Commenting on the PCC's decision, Thomas Barnard, sports specialist solicitor at leading law firm Thomas Eggar LLP, said, “Even though the ban is relatively short, the need for Mr Cellino to cut ties with the Club and to refrain from acting as a “Relevant Person” is likely to cause Leeds real difficulties.  

"The Rules provide that Mr Cellino will not only have to refrain from decision making at the Club, but possibly sell or transfer his shareholding such that he is unable to exercise any control over the Club.  If he doesn’t take steps to ensure that he is unable to exercise control of the Club, then Mr Cellino and Leeds would potentially be subject to further sanctions.

“The League’s decision highlights the importance to clubs of having contingency plans in place to deal with such disqualifications.  In this case Leeds FC, who has known of the possibility of the ban for some time, is likely to defer critical decisions to other senior managers at the Club.  Legally, it will be more difficult to deal with Mr Cellino’s shares in the club and his legal entitlement to exercise control over its affairs.

“The League also refused Mr Cellino’s review application, meaning that there is no right for Mr Cellino to challenge the length of the ban imposed.  It therefore seems unlikely, given the League’s reasoning for the decision, that Mr Cellino will exercise any further right to appeal.”

Posted by: Aaron Gourley 

 

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