Italian businessman disqualified from buying LeedsAP , Associated Press
Mar. 24, 2014 1:30 PM ET
LONDON (AP) — Cagliari president Massimo Cellino was blocked from taking over fallen English power Leeds on Monday because of his recent conviction for tax evasion, leaving the second-tier club in a state of limbo over its future ownership.
The Football League, which runs the divisions below the Premier League, said Cellino's conviction in Italy for failing to pay import taxes on a yacht he purchased in the United States constituted "a disqualifying condition under its owners' and directors' test."
Leeds' current owners — GFH Capital, a Bahraini investment bank — released a statement late Monday saying it was still in talks with the Football League and Eleonora Sport, the company run by Cellino, in a bid to "find a solution that is suitable to all parties."
Cellino, who has been awaiting approval to purchase a 75-percent stake in Leeds, has 14 days to appeal the Football League board's decision.
Cellino has already paid more than 2 million pounds ($3.3 million) into the northern club, which won the English top-flight title in 1992 and reached the Champions League semifinals in 2001 before falling into financial difficulties.
Leeds is 13th in the 24-team League Championship, 12 points off a place in the playoffs, as it seeks a return to the Premier League for the first time since 2004.
Leeds managing director David Haigh has eased fans' fears that the club could slide toward administration if a new owner wasn't found soon, saying there was "no chance" of that happening.
"Our shareholders continue to support the club directly or through additional investments as has always been the case," the statement by GFH Capital added. "We would like to reassure the fans of the continuity of our great club."
A court in Sardinia ordered Cellino last week to pay a fine of 600,000 euros and trial costs as well as the confiscation of the boat in question.
Last year, he was arrested as part of a stadium construction investigation.