Leeds takeover: Cellino ‘to be cleared of tax evasion’

Massimo Cellino
Massimo Cellino
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THE Italian lawyer of Massimo Cellino said last night that he expects Cellino to be cleared of the tax evasion charges which are threatening to wreck his takeover of Leeds United.

Giovanni Cocco, Cellino’s legal representative in Sardinia, said he believed he had “fully proved that Mr Cellino is not guilty” of allegations that he avoided payment of 400,000 euros in import duty on a luxury yacht bought in 2010.

Prosecutors in Italy want a Sardinian court to impose a seven-figure fine on Cellino and seize the boat when his case is heard on March 18, a week on Tuesday.

A conviction would potentially lead to Cellino failing the Football League’s Owners and Directors Test, in turn collapsing his proposed £25million purchase of Leeds from Gulf Finance House.

The Football League is likely to wait until after his tax evasion trial before making a decision on whether to approve his 75 per cent buy-out of the Elland Road club.

Cellino will plead not guilty to the charges, with Cocco arguing that he was entitled to keep his yacht in Italian waters for up to 18 months under “EU customs legislation”.

Cocco said Cellino, whose permanent home is in Miami, was an employee of an American company which owed the boat and was not required to pay any tax.

In an email to the YEP, Cocco wrote: “In my view I have fully proved that Mr Cellino is not guilty because the boat is owned by a US company to which Mr Cellino is an employee and is entitled, therefore, (to) stay temporarily in Italy for 18 months in accordance with EU customs legislation without paying any fee.”

Cellino has no unspent convictions and would presently pass the Owners and Directors Test, and the Football League said in a letter sent to Leeds MP Greg Mulholland last week that all potential owners of English clubs were considered “innocent until proven guilty” of pending charges.

Cellino’s tax evasion case is expected to start on March 18 and conclude the same day.

The owner and president of Serie A club Cagliari is also being investigated for alleged embezzlement related to the construction of the temporary Is Arenas, a stadium in Sardinia used briefly by Cagliari.

Cocco said neither he nor Cellino had received a “request for trial” in relation to that case and did not know if or when the matter would be heard in court.