Cellino guilty of tax evasion

  • Last Updated: March 18 2014, 15:15 GMT

Massimo Cellino's proposed takeover of Leeds United could be in jeopardy after the Cagliari president was handed a hefty fine by an Italian court on Tuesday.

Massimo Cellino: Found guilty of tax evasion
Massimo Cellino: Found guilty of tax evasion

Cellino has been ordered to pay a fine of £502,000 for failing to pay duty on a yacht he imported from the United States.

The Italian entrepreneur's defence lawyer Giovanni Cocco, announced that Cellino, who was not in court, planned to appeal against the court's ruling.

"This verdict is absolutely unjust and we will appeal," he told the Guardian after the brief court session.

Cellino agreed a deal to buy a 75 percent stake in the club from Gulf Finance House Capital at the start of last month.

However, Tuesday's decision by the court in Sardinia could scupper the deal which was due to be considered by a Football League board meeting next month.

The governing body's 'owners and directors' test, prevents anyone with an unspent conviction for dishonesty offences from being a director, a 30 per cent owner, or from exercising control over one of its clubs which points to the Cellino takeover being blocked.

The Calgliari court ordered Cellino to pay a fine of 600,000 euros for failing to declare the imported yacht to the authorities and ordered the boat to be confiscated.

Cellino avoided paying 400,000 euros in import duty although the fine is far inferior to the figure of 1.165m euros demanded by the public prosecutor Andrea Massidda.

The 57-year-old already has a 2001 conviction for false accounting and is being investigated for alleged misuse of public funds relating to construction work on Cagliari's Quartu Sant'Elena stadium.

Cellino said publicly last week that he could no longer continue to bankroll the club until the League gives his takeover the go ahead.

He also said he would "walk away" from Leeds without a fight if he did not pass the League's test.

But it seems the agricultural entrepreneur is not ready to give up his fight yet.

Cellino's lawyer Professor Cocco told BBC Radio Leeds that the appeal against the tax evasion verdict could take between six and nine months.

Cocco added: "According to my point of view, this business (on Tuesday) has no relevance whatsoever to the decision of the Football League.

"Obviously that's up to the Football League themselves.

"In my opinion, as a lawyer, today's sentence has no relevance to the takeover of Leeds United.

"The verdict does not mean that Cellino is guilty - because in Italian law he can only be guilty after the third stage of the process. Today he is innocent."

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