Fit and proper Harvey investigates Leeds’ ownership TSS March 7, 2014 Leeds United 22 Comments If you feel as if the Leeds United takeover saga has stalled, that’s probably because it has. While we all love to demonstrate our victim complex, throw stones at the Football League and insist everything is their fault because they hate us and we don’t care (except, sometimes we do…), on this occasion, they’re almost entirely blameless. I say ‘almost’ blameless because I consider the Owners & Directors test (previously known as the Fit & Proper test) to be a pitiful display of pointless bureaucracy that serves absolutely no purpose, so because of it’s very existence, the Football League must take some blame. But alas, the test exists and passing it is no more complicated than completing a dot-to-dot. Or rather, it shouldn’t be more complicated than completing a dot-to-dot. Unfortunately, things are never quite so straightforward for Leeds United. While other clubs simply fill out what the Football League describes as “primarily a self-certification” test, stick it in the mail and then exchange the keys, Leeds United has to explain to the Football League why its current ownership doesn’t make any sense before they can even begin to consider the prospective new owners. The part the Football League is most confused about is how Gulf Financial House came to be in a position where they can sell 75% of a football club to Massimo Cellino when they announced to the Bahrain Bourse (and presumably, the Football League) that they’d sold their majority stake last year. The answer it seems, is quite simple. A quick glance at Leeds United’s ever-changing ownership statement will show the total disappearance of Salah Nooruddin, the (presumably former) chairman who was more illusive than a David Batty goal. Nooruddin, it would seem, held a considerable stake in Leeds United Football Club for a time and GFH claim they have consolidated his shareholding with their own to facilitate the sale of 75% to Massimo Cellino. Which is fine. Or at least, it should have been. You see, the problem is, the Football League clearly didn’t know this had happened. Whether they were informed of any equity movement (ie. the original movement to Nooruddin) is questionable, but they clearly didn’t know about the latest movement or they wouldn’t have returned to GFH with questions about how they came to hold 75% of the club. Any change in the ownership and director status at a Football Club must be reported to the Football League within 14 days. This would appear to be a pretty basic oversight and the Football League are now awaiting paperwork to verify these transactions, which makes you wonder how many more GFH webs the Football League will have to untangle before Cellino can take charge of the club and start making it his own. The ultimate irony is, Shaun “3 administrations, yet still fit and proper” Harvey, the man who helped sell Leeds United to the hopeless Gulf Financial House in the first place, is the man charged with untangling the web of Leeds United’s ownership. This is a man who claimed to not know who owned Leeds United when he himself was the club’s CEO. To make matters worse, GFH’s failure to supply the Football League with the appropriate paperwork has allowed another issue to come into play in the shape of a court case for tax evasion back in Cellino’s homeland. It seems Leeds United’s new owner set up a business in America, through which he purchased a yacht to avoid paying tax. Said yacht was then shipped to Italy where the Italian didn’t think he’d have to pay import duty because the yacht is technically owned by an American company. While it’s perfectly legal for an American company to ship assets to Italy without paying import duty, the Italian prosecutor is arguing that Massimo Cellino has deliberately exploited the system, and in doing so, should be charged with tax evasion. The company in question was set up only a month before the yacht was purchased and appears to function as nothing but a yacht-buying company, so it’s hard to argue Cellino didn’t try to avoid tax. But tax avoidance isn’t illegal. The British Cayman Islands, Monaco and anywhere you can expect to find Ken Bates and his kind thrive on creating tax loopholes for billionaires, a clever accountant will see to it that your average billionaire pays less tax than you and I. Tax evasion is something else entirely, but there’s a grey area between avoidance and evasion in which lawyers for the state and lawyers for the billionaires regularly battle it out. This is just another in a long line of such cases. As such, it’s unlikely that this will lead to a criminal charge so it should have no effect on Cellino’s clearance. However, some reports claim the Football League will wait for the outcome of the case before making a decision, so they clearly feel there’s a chance (however slim) that this will give them grounds to deny Cellino’s clearance, meaning Leeds United’s takeover could be sunk by our would-be new owners’ lavish spending. You simply cannot make this stuff up.