Is Cellino Guilty? Possibly … Dishonest? No Chance – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino: trusting in providence

Cellino: trusting in providence

The Football League – still reeling from the impact of a mere QC having the brass bollocks to overturn their magisterial decision to reject Massimo Cellino as owner of Leeds United – plainly have all their hopes pinned on the “reasoned judgement” of the Italian judge in the “Nélie” case.  This judgement, a fuller statement of the reasons for the judge’s verdict of March 18th, is due within a 90 day period from the initial judgement – i.e. by sometime in June.  The League will be hoping, in their remorseless determination to get rid of Leeds United’s best hope, that there is a clear imputation of “dishonesty” within the judge’s reasoning; this would enable them to revisit the issue of Cellino’s “fit and proper” status, as covered in Tim Kerr’s appeal judgement which was released on Saturday.

Happily for Cellino, Leeds United and long-suffering fans everywhere, there must be a very good chance that the Italian judge – for sound, common sense reasons – will make no imputation of dishonesty.  Firstly, the fine imposed was some way beneath the normal minimum amount for the offence concerned, with a mention of “generic mitigation” about which we shall doubtless hear more in the detailed reasons.  But this may well be an indication that Dr Sandra Lepore has decided that duty was evaded for reasons other than dishonesty. This leads us onto the second point: the important, nay crucial, distinction between “guilt” and “dishonesty”, upon which depends the eventual outcome of this case – together with all the League’s hopes of saving face and getting their man.

The first thing that needs to be understood is that, for Cellino to be disqualified, he must be found to be guilty AND dishonest.  These two do always not go hand in hand, as some might assume.  “Guilt”, simply defined is “the state of having done wrong”.  Cellino would argue that, under the Italian constitution, his guilt is not established until the entire legal process including a couple more stages of appeal, is exhausted.  That argument failed before Kerr, but he somewhat unexpectedly took the view that, on the evidence before him, there was no reason to find that Cellino had acted dishonestly.

Guilt can arise knowingly or unknowingly.  You can be guilty by design, by omission, through ignorance or deception, by being misled or badly advised – many circumstances can lead to guilt, not just sheer badness.  As can be readily understood, guilt through ignorance or misunderstanding is a different thing from guilt with, as they used to call it, malice aforethought. It’s these different categories of guilt that will differ in the presence or absence of dishonesty. Somebody guilty through ignorance or misapprehension is not dishonest, and this is very important in Cellino’s case.

In effect, to avoid any imputation of dishonesty, all Cellino has to show is that he thought he was doing no wrong.  Dishonest guilt implies that the offender knows very well that what he is doing is wrong, but he chooses to do it anyway. It’s possible, of course, that import duty could be avoided in just this way.  But to what end?  You end up paying it anyway, and a fine which can be up to ten times the duty avoided – and, as in Cellino’s case, the item upon which duty should have been paid is confiscated.  That’s not a good result – so why would anybody willingly court such an outcome? Especially somebody of Cellino’s reputed wealth, to whom import duty of €300k or so is almost literally small change.

Cellino also makes the point that he could have spun out this case over the yacht “Nélie” over a maybe a couple of years, by which time he and Leeds United may well have been beyond the Football League’s jurisdiction anyway.  But instead, he opted to get it out of the way – because he thought he was right.  This is vitally important.  If Cellino really thought he was not guilty, then by the logic described above, he may well be guilty – but he can’t be dishonest.  Dishonesty would require a good understanding of his legal position, an acceptance that what he was doing was wrong – and a reckless determination to go ahead and do it anyway.  In those circumstances, the duty-evader could be expected to delay the evil hour of judgement for as long as possible, knowing he was bang to rights.  Not – as Cellino did – to expedite the process, seeking an early resolution – because of his firm belief that he was in the right.

To summarise the position – if we assume that Cellino is guilty, i.e. that he has done something wrong for whatever reason, then all depends upon whether that reason had some dishonesty attached.  But if he genuinely believed that he had a case for non-payment – based on the argument that he is a US resident, the yacht is a US craft and duty had been paid in the US – then he cannot be held to be dishonest.  Ignorant, maybe.  Misguided, possibly, or even badly advised. But not dishonest – and if that’s the case, then the Football League will not be able to apply their disqualification to him.

Given all of the above, if Dr Lepore has had regard to all of these circumstances, it’s difficult to see how she can impute dishonesty against Massimo Cellino in this case – and that may just be what is behind the rather low fine – significantly less than the normal minimum. Looking at it from the outside, it’s difficult to see how a finding of dishonesty can stick, given that all Cellino had to do was convince the judge that, if he has done anything wrong, it was through ignorance, not design. With so little to gain from acting dishonestly in such circumstances, and with the transparency of his actions in seeking to get the case disposed of quickly, there must be a very good chance that Cellino will emerge from this latest kerfuffle undamaged – much to the ongoing grief and rage of the Football League.

In Mishcon de Reya, Cellino has just about the finest legal team he could wish for – and they will certainly be on top of these arguments.  Here’s hoping, then, that justice and common-sense will shortly prevail over the League’s murky and Machiavellian motivations.

17 responses to “Is Cellino Guilty? Possibly … Dishonest? No Chance – by Rob Atkinson

  1. Now the accounts have been published, let’s see the FL justify keeping GFH in control.


  2. Cellino is an incredibly rich man and unlike we mere mortals doesn’t deal with the more mundane aspects of life that we can only dream of. He has a staff of lawyers and accountants to deal with tax etc. Therefore it is highly feasible that other people than Cellino were left to make whatever decision that was decided in regards to the yacht. I bet if you asked him how much income tax he paid last year or something really mundane such as how much was your last weeks grocery bill was then he wouldn’t have a clue…..he has staff to deal with it all. This is possibly why the judge took this into account and gave him such a relatively small fine.
    If the FL decide not to approve him as owner then I hope he takes them to court because he would surely win the case and the FL found to be being just vindictive because it is Leeds Utd. Then claim the court costs off the FL and individuals who have been concerned parties. That would deplete Harvey and Co’s bank accounts severely.


  3. Personally, I went from elation to confusion in less than the time it takes to write this. Having read all sorts of pieces that didn’t seem in any way conclusive, by Sunday evening I was thinking ‘Can Cellino actually go to work tomorrow? Or do we have to wait until this ridiculous weekly FL meeting on Thursday where they are going to ratify (or not, what then..) the decision to overturn their decision (?!?!)?. Or are we going to be put in some sort of circling position until mid-June and Dr Lepore’s written submission?’

    And there’s me thinking we had some sort of clarity…I do think the runes will land favourably, though, but I can’t explain to anyone quite why…Your thoughts seem rational, Rob. But this is Leeds…


    • If say in 3 months time they decide to retrospectively kick cellino out, we as fans can use the media to scare them off by starting a campaign to kick out ALL club directors who’ve been found guilty of various crimes, or are banned from running companies due to bankruptcy etc..

      Surely the press would be up for kicking out Carston yeung and especially Owen oyston when you put their crimes in context against vat evasion.

      The football league would look very stupid.

      In fact we should maybe right now pressuring the likes of the telegraph and the independent to have a nice hard look at shaun Harvey and his mates on the fl board, I’m sure theres some good stories there for a dedicated investigative journalist.


  4. I’m re-assured by your reasoned arguments Rob, but what of Cellino’s other impending court cases for allegedly avoiding import duty on another boat and a Range Rover?

    Blissful ignorance is one thing, but trying to pull the same stunt 3 times suggests otherwise.


  5. You can be dishonest without being guilty too.

    See bates k & Harvey s


  6. HOW can socks off I dont know who owns LEEDS BROWN NOSE HARVEY say CELLINO IS NOT FIT AND PROPER after all the untruths he told under BATES SCUM OF THE EARTH.


  7. Iff the FL are stupid enough to try and stop Cellino he will sue the FL.can you imagine Shaun Harvey and the other seven being cross examined by his legal love to be there to see it in fact id pay to see it.


  8. I have to agree with Allan , I can’t see someone with all his money doing his own accounting , this is a man who has just piled millions into a club he didn’t even own at the time , why would he instruct his accountants to try and fiddle a mere few hundred grand , it doesn’t make sense rob


  9. The football league have two options as far as I can see.

    They ratify the takeover and it completes as planned, it will be difficult if near impossible to remove him from the board retrospectively, regardless of the report issued by Dr Lepore in June, even if it judges he deliberately acted dishonestly. The fallout would be immense, and a PR disaster. The current situations at a number of other clubs include offences far more serious and as I write they remain in charge.
    They do not ratify the takeover and instead vote to await the findings in this report with the hope it will incriminate him in some way, implying deliberate act of dishonesty, and they finally get their crooked way.

    Either way, their behaviour towards the club we love stinks. Its tantamount to a witch hunt. But we will march on, we will will stick together, and hopefully we will follow Mr Cellino et al to the promised land.

    However long that takes.

    One things for sure, it’s bound to be an interesting ride.

    MOT, or as Mr Cellino would say “Marciare Su Insieme!!”


  10. Rob, you and Allan have convinced me, and as for other offences involving another boat and a range rover see the comments about who sorts out his taxes. Not dishonest on Nelie will translate across to the others as it will be the same tax advisor giving the same advice.
    Now let’s hope that B Mac can motivate the ‘Bankers’ in white shirts to earn their money tonight.MOT


  11. I see from the press conference that it seems that David Haigh has gone. I tend to agree with the underlying consensus that once Massimo has taken the reins it will be very difficult for the FL to wrestle them from him. .MOT


  12. Nelie the rigged yacht elephant’s packed her trunk and said good bye to the circus,,,,,!!!!!!!,


  13. IF Cellino does get banned after3 mths,it will be a disaster,but mainly for him ,Leeds will have debts paid off ,the ground & training ground back & the club would be very attractive to buy


  14. Wootton or Austin or Kebe worst ever Leeds players, no doubt who the worst manager is


  15. Pingback: Welcome to Elland Road, Blackpool FC AND Their ‘Fit & Proper’ Rapist Owner – by Rob Atkinson | La Vita, Leeds United, l'Universo e Tutto

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