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Leeds United co-owner Cellino demolishes another legal skeleton

It wasn’t long before Massimo Cellino arrived on the scene at Leeds United in April 2014 that fans began to see just what they were in for with the Italian who went from maverick to madcap pretty quickly.

He arrived on these shores with the nickname of il mangia alenatori, the manager eater, and then manager Brian McDermott was the first course that he tucked into. After that, David Hockaday, Darko Milanic, Neil Redfearn, Uwe Rosler and Steve Evans proved to be further additions to Cellino’s often hastily arranged smorgasbord of managers.

But there was also a darker shade to Cellino, a hue of decision-making that often saw him dragged before the courts or authorities with instances of trials or deliberation strailing in his wake. It was not long before Leeds fans found out that import duty evasion and accusations of financial impropriety in a case still ongoing in the Italian legal system.

Despite serving a Football League ban for breaking the terms of their ‘Owners and Directors Test’, Cellino has seen recent successes in the courtroom. Last year Italian law was changed to decriminalise certain offences, the result being that Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino found himself a winner in court, something of a then-rarity for the Whites’ now co-owner. That win, over a fine for avoiding import duty on a Range Rover, meant that Cellino had a further 223-day Football League ban rescinded, a ban which was on appeal in any case.

Much to the chagrin of some elements of the Leeds United fanbase, Massimo Cellino was free to continue his contested ownership of the Whites. This run of luck also seemed to continue with regard to a ‘conviction’ Cellino received in regard to his yacht ‘Lucky 23’. Initially Cellino was accused of ‘smuggling’ the yacht into Italy from the United States due to the fact that he hadn’t paid the necessary import duty or IVA tax.

The alleged ‘importation’ of the Lucky 23 involved alleged non-payment of VAT to the tune of €84,122 with this forming the basis of the charge raised against Massimo Cellino. However, a report from Italian newspaper L’Unione Sarda announced the news that Cellino had been cleared of wrongdoing in that case.

A more serious set of charges are still outstanding with regard to the IS Arenas case currently going through the Italian judicial system.

This case is currently on hiatus, a delay being issued until May 22 this year when the case is due to reconvene. It appears that the delay is a procedural one, with the original Italian judges involved in the case, according to Italian journalist Chiara Zammitti on Twitter, being “assigned to other roles”, this obviously facilitating the swearing-in of new judges and a projected adjournment until February 2017.

However, in news coming through earlier this month on Italian site Sarda News, whilst Cellino may not be able to wave a magic wand and flutter away from all charges, it seems as if one charge has been reformulated. It appears that before the reformulation of the charge, according to the Sarda News article, the indictment was speaking “generically of buildings” in areas covered by certain statutes, now prosecutors “have called a norm for unauthorised construction over 1000 cubic metres.”

The hearing will still continue with this modified charge joining alongside the main charge of alleged embezzlement with Sarda News saying: “ According to the indictment the defendants were prepared to use 365 thousand euro of public money to the Is Arenas stadium-related work (electrical substation, fence and access road to the plant) which instead would have to pay the sports club.

However, recent events have transpired which mean that Cellino can mark another historic court case down in the ‘win’ column regarding historic tax-evasion charges of £35 million dating back to 2012 and relating to payments received for the exportation of semolina.

In reporting the judgement of the Italian courts, the Mail Online said that: “the Italian High Court has now revoked the request for payment and cleared the Cellinos of any wrongdoing.” The Cellino’s lawyer, Georgio Altieri said of the dropping of the charges that: “The Italian High Court confirmed the judgment issued in 2012 has been revoked, since the lack of any proof of unlawful conduct was evident.”

The removal of this legal case will add further fuel to the fire amongst some Leeds United fans who remain unconvinced on two matters: the decision-making of the Italian court system and Cellino’s continued suitability to remain in any way connected with Leeds United. There is talk in some quarters that the Italian is ‘on his way’ at the season’s end and that he will sell his remaining stake to Andrea Radrizzani who also has an equal share in the Elland Road-based club.

However, it is Leeds United and Massimo Cellino and has recent history seems to prove, nothing is quite that straightforward.

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