The Football League announced on 19 October 2015 that, following a review of the reasoned Judgment of an Italian court, it had deemed that the President of Leeds United Football Club Massimo Cellino’s conviction under Italian tax legislation relating to the non-payment of VAT constituted a disqualifying condition under its Directors’ and Owners’ test.
As a result of this finding, Mr Cellino will be suspended from running the club at an executive level from 11 November 2015, unless he appeals against the decision and permission is granted for the decision to be stayed, pending this appeal. Mr Cellino has stated that he intends to appeal, however the grounds for doing so are relatively limited and he must confirm any appeal by 28 October 2015.
In accordance with section 5 of Appendix 3 of The Football League’s rules, an appeal against a finding that an individual is subject to a disqualifying condition will only be upheld if either it can be demonstrated that they are not subject to a disqualifying condition, or that this resulted from a conviction by a Court outside of England & Wales and there are compelling reasons why the League should not prevent him acting as a ‘relevant person’ i.e President.
On the basis that the finding of guilt was in relation to the non-payment of VAT on an imported vehicle, it will certainly be a challenge to demonstrate that this should not be seen as falling foul of the Football League’s rules in that this was either a dishonest act or any of the other failing provisions contained within the Owners’ and Directors’ test. Accordingly, should this ground of appeal fail, then Mr Cellino will have to demonstrate that there are compelling reasons why the League should not suspend him. As this definition is wide, it will be for Mr Cellino’s lawyers to prove and it is not possible to accurately predict what any appeals panel are likely to accept.
It should however of course be taken into consideration that this is not the first time that Mr Cellino has fallen foul of the Owners’ and Directors test. Following a similar conviction for failing to pay £305,000 import tax on a yacht in March 2014, Mr Cellino was originally suspended, however this was lifted pending receipt of the final Judgment of the Italian court. Following receipt of this, the suspension was imposed until such time as the conviction was deemed ‘spent’ under UK law, this being 1 year after it was imposed.
Accordingly, should Mr Cellino’s current appeal fail, then the suspension, which arises due to non-payment of the much lesser sum of £28,400, will remain until the latest conviction is spent, in June 2016.
Leeds fans will no doubt be waiting with anticipation to see what the outcome of any appeal is, therefore what role Mr Cellino will have at the club this season. However, if the previous suspension is anything to go by, then the Club certainly seemed to cope in Mr Cellino’s absence and Leeds fans will probably just be hoping that the current off-field activities do not detract from new manager Steve Evans’ tasks on the field of play.
This continuing story will certainly be reported by the national and local press, who have turned to expert opinion such as FrontRow Legal’s principal Richard Cramer to offer opinion and guidance.