Leeds United: Cellino secures another acquittal in Italian courts

Leeds United shareholder Massimo Cellino has secured another acquittal in an Italian court case dating back over 20 years.

Massimo Cellino.

The High Court in Rome this week cleared Cellino and his sister Lucina of wrongdoing following a long battle over business carried out by their family firm, SEM Molini Sardi, in the early 1990s.

United’s co-owner, whose company produced agricultural food products, was originally ordered to pay back more than £30m of export subsidies and fined around £200m after being found guilty of seeking undue contributions to SEM Molini Sardi’s export costs.

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The fine was overturned by the High Court in 2012 and a second hearing on Wednesday revoked the order requiring the company to repay the export contributions.

The case was spent under UK law by the time Cellino bought a majority stake in Leeds in 2014 and did not affect his takeover but Cellino was ruled out of the running to acquire control of Crystal Palace in 2010 on the basis of Italian convictions which breached the Football League’s fit and proper person test.

A statement from Tonucci and Partners, the legal firm who represented Cellino, said: “The lawyers of Tonucci and Partners are pleased to have restored the reputation of SEM Molini Sardi. They had to wait over 20 years to obtain final clearing from any charges and orders issued by the Italian tax authorities.

“The Italian High Court confirmed the prevalence of the judgment issued in 2012, since the lack of any proof of unlawful conduct was evident.”

The acquittal is the latest in a series of cases in which Cellino has overturned judgements against him, several of which threatened his status as a major shareholder at Elland Road.

The 60-year-old remains at the centre of an embezzlement trial relating to the construction of a new stadium for Cagliari while he was owner of the Serie A club but a charge against him was reclassified this week and the matter has been adjourned until May 22.

Cellino is also under threat of a 12-month ban and a £100,000 fine from the Football Association after being found guilty of arranging an illegal payment during the sale of striker Ross McCormack to Fulham in 2014 but that punishment has been stayed while he challenges the decision through the FA’s rule K arbitration scheme, a process which is likely to take a number of months.

Cellino sold half of United to Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani in January and could pass 100 per cent control to Radrizzani at the end of this season. He was linked last month with an attempt to buy into Serie B side Brescia but Brescia have since denied holding any talks with Cellino.