The future of Leeds United appeared to be no clearer tonight after another day of confusion.
Representatives of the Italian businessman attempting to take over the Elland Road outfit insisted early in the day that his two previous convictions should be regarded as ‘spent’ by the Football League.
But then this evening, a report suggested that one of Massimo Cellino’s rival bidders had filed a winding-up petition against the club.
Andrew Flowers, the owner of club sponsor Enterprise Insurance and part of the Sport Capital consortium which collapsed last Thursday, is said to have filed the petition on January 29, the day after he had gone public with his unrest over the way his bid had been handled.
Flowers made a financial loan to the club in 2012 and, if the report is true, now appears to be claiming his debts as unpaid. The lifelong Leeds fan is currently working with a second consortium, Together Leeds, in order to try and purchase the club instead of Cellino.
League chiefs are currently considering the bid from the owner of Cagliari, who play in Italy’s Serie A, and need to determine whether he passes the owners’ and directors’ test.
Cellino received a suspended sentence in 2001 for false accounting. His representatives say a 1996 fine for fraud was overturned on appeal.
In Britain, both convictions would be regarded as ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, meaning there is no obligation to disclose them and that the offences should no longer be held against the person in any way.
It is understood that Cellino’s lawyers have presented a case to the Football League arguing that he cannot be barred from owning Leeds due to the past offences.
Nor can the fact he could face a trial after being arrested in Italy last year as part of an ongoing investigation into the alleged misuse of public funds be held against him. Under current League rules, people are regarded as innocent until proven otherwise.
The Football League’s owners’ and directors’ test states a disqualifying condition is “having an unspent conviction (or where the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 does not apply for any reason, having a conviction within the period that would have rendered that conviction unspent had the provisions of that Act applied) for” offences including dishonesty, corruption and perverting the course of justice.
The test does not have any conditions dealing with a person under investigation for an alleged offence.
Leeds’ owners Gulf Finance House Capital are now understood to be poised to open talks with another consortium after initially having agreed a deal to sell 75 per cent of the club’s shares to Cellino’s company Eleonora Sport Ltd on Saturday. The second group involves Flowers.
But after Cellino’s failed attempt to sack manager Brian McDermott later the same day, it emerged his legal representatives had been escorted from club premises yesterday.
McDermott, who stayed away from Leeds’ 5-1 derby win against Huddersfield at the weekend as the club’s latest takeover saga plunged into farce, reported for duties as normal yesterday morning after GFH Capital confirmed the 52-year-old had not been sacked. Flowers said he would be withdrawing his sponsorship of the club as a consequence.
McDermott was unable to end continued speculation over who will take control of the Championship club at a press conference but the fans have made it clear they favour the joint-bid of Sport Capital and Together Leeds.
Together Leeds, which includes former Manchester United director Mike Farnan and former Hull chairman Adam Pearson – who left his position as commercial director at Elland Road in 2001 – had been hoping to enter into talks with GFH Capital but were left claiming a “lockout” until the antics of the weekend unfolded.
There was no comment from any of the parties involved tonight.