Day of reckoning dawns for Cellino and Leeds United

Massimo Cellino at Elland Road, Leeds
Massimo Cellino at Elland Road, Leeds
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Italian businessman Massimo Cellino will seek to have his disqualification from owning Leeds United overturned at an appeal hearing on Thursday.

Cellino was barred by the Football League’s board from being owner and a director of Leeds in December after it ruled his conviction for tax evasion was a “dishonest act”.

Cellino’s appeal will be heard by a three-person professional conduct committee, chaired by Tim Kerr QC. The outcome is likely to be known next week.

If the Football League’s disqualification is upheld, it will mean 58-year-old Cellino will have to step down as a director - but only until March, when his conviction becomes spent under UK law.

Cellino was fined 600,000 euros (£465,000) by a court in Sardinia last March after being found guilty of failing to pay import duty on his yacht, the Nelie.

Kerr was also the person who allowed Cellino’s original appeal back in April on the basis that there were no written reasons available from the court case which would determine whether it was a dishonest act or not.

However, the QC stated in his decision allowing that appeal: “If the reasoned ruling of the court in Cagliari discloses the conduct of Mr Cellino was such it would reasonably be considered to be dishonest, he would be [disqualified].”

The Football League then applied to the court in Cagliari for those written reasons, and once it had received them its board took the view that the conviction did constitute a dishonest act and announced he was to be disqualified.

Cellino may try to claim that under Italian law he is still presumed innocent because the appeals process has not been exhausted. The issue with that, however, is it means he would then be gaining an advantage on any club director dealt with under British law where they are viewed as being guilty after the initial conviction.

The Football League originally said Cellino had to resign as a director of Leeds by December 29 but agreed to defer that deadline until two days after the final decision by the professional conduct committee.

A statement from the league last month said: “As a consequence, the parties have agreed that if Mr Cellino is unsuccessful in his appeal, any disqualification period will be extended by an amount equivalent to the length of time between December 29 and the deferred deadline.”

Cellino took over Leeds towards the end of last season and has already fired two managers - Dave Hockaday and Darko Milanic - during this campaign.