Leeds United: Cellino tax trial delayed again after judge rules himself out

Massimo Cellino. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Massimo Cellino. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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MASSIMO Cellino’s trial over a second tax evasion charge has been delayed again after the judge in the case abstained from hearing it.

According to Italian media, Dr Sandra Lepore has stepped aside and will allow a replacement to hear Cellino’s trial having previously convicted Leeds United’s owner of a separate tax offence.

Italian prosecutors accuse Cellino of avoiding around £75,000 in import duty owed on a private yacht, Lucky 23.

Lepore was due to rule on that allegation but has already overseen the case of Nelie, a different boat which Cellino was found guilty of failing to pay tax on during a hearing in Cagliari in March.

The 58-year-old received a fine of around £400,000 and the conviction was initially used by the Football League to bar him from buying a majority stake in Leeds.

Cellino overturned that decision on appeal and completed his takeover of United in April but the Nelie case continues to threaten the his ownership at Elland Road.

The Football League is awaiting a copy of Lepore’s full written judgement as it seeks to establish whether Cellino’s tax offence was deliberately dishonest.

Cellino successfully challenged the League’s attempt to block his takeover on the grounds that the League could not prove if he was guilty of dishonesty without Lepore’s written verdict.

The Guardian newspaper recently quoted what it said were extracts from Lepore’s report, condemning a “bogus corporate screen” and Cellino’s “Machiavellian simulation”.

The League is yet to receive a copy of the judgement, however, and both Cellino and his legal representatives in England say they have not seen it, despite an Italian lawyer who represents Cellino claiming to have a copy in his possession.

The League could bring misconduct charges against United’s owner if he fails to supply them with Lepore’s judgement in the weeks ahead.

Under the rules of the League’s Owners and Directors Test, club owners are required to inform the governing body of changes to their status which might breach the rules or disqualify them.

The League’s board could attempt to bar Cellino for a second time if it finds that his offence in the Nelie case was deliberately dishonest, though Cellino’s conviction in that instance will be spent under UK law in March of next year.

The League’s rules on owners and directors do not apply to spent convictions.

But Cellino remains at risk of a second conviction with the case of Lucky 23 still pending.

The trial was due to proceed in Cagliari today but Lepore has removed herself from proceedings to prevent a conflict of interest.

A new date for the trial has not been announced.