Manchester City could be facing a ban from European club football after a UEFA investigation into potential breaches of financial fair play.
Chief financial fair play investigator Yves Leterme referred their case to the investigatory chamber of its main regulator, the Club Financial Control Body.
But City said in a statement that they are “entirely confident of a positive outcome” when the matter is considered by an independent judicial body.
Leterme, a former prime minister of Belgium, opened his investigation into the Premier League champions on March 7 following a series of reports in German news magazine Der Spiegel late last year which suggested the club had deceived UEFA about its finances.
Based on emails received from the Football Leaks whistle-blowing website, these reports alleged City had inflated the value of their commercial deals with Abu Dhabi-based companies and hid payments to players and staff from the wage bill.
In a statement, UEFA said: “The Club Financial Control Body chief investigator, after having consulted with the other members of the independent investigatory chamber of the CFCB, has decided to refer Manchester City to the CFCB adjudicatory chamber following the conclusion of his investigation.
“The CFCB investigatory chamber had opened an investigation into Manchester City on March 7 for potential breaches of financial fair play regulations that were made public in various media outlets.”
It added that it would not be making any further comment until a decision on what punishment City will face, if any, is announced by the CFCB’s adjudicatory chamber.
City, who are set to celebrate their second straight Premier League title with an open-top bus parade on Monday, did not take long to reply.
In a statement released via their social media channels, the club said: “Manchester City is disappointed, but regrettably not surprised, by the sudden announcement of the referral to be made by the CFCB chief investigator Yves Leterme.
“The leaks to media over the last week are indicative of the process that has been overseen by Mr Leterme.
“Manchester City is entirely confident of a positive outcome when the matter is considered by an independent judicial body.
Manchester City, which won the Premier League title on Sunday, faces a one-year ban from the Champions League for misleading financial regulators about the money they poured into the team https://t.co/A4Q9a1e4hd— The New York Times (@nytimes) May 13, 2019
“The accusation of financial irregularities remains entirely false and the CFCB referral ignores a comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence provided by Manchester City to the chamber.
“The decision contains mistakes, misinterpretations and confusions fundamentally borne out of a basic lack of due process and there remain significant unresolved matters raised by Manchester City as part of what the club has found to be a wholly unsatisfactory, curtailed, and hostile process.”
The reference to recent media leaks is related to a New York Times piece from earlier this week which predicted Leterme’s decision and claimed he was pushing for a ban from Europe of at least one year.
UEFA’s financial fair play rules have been in operation since 2011 and were brought in to tackle European football’s debt problem and encourage teams to balance their books.
City and French champions Paris St Germain were the first high-profile clubs to fall foul of the rules in 2014, when the English side were fined £49million for what UEFA believed was the artificial inflation of a series of deals with “related parties” – in other words, companies linked to their owner Sheikh Mansour, a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family.
Despite protesting their innocence, City accepted the sanction, which included a restriction on the size of their Champions League squad, but were eventually reimbursed with two thirds of their fine, £33million, in 2017 for apparently complying with the rules.
Press Association Sport understands, however, that Leterme and his team now believe City lied to them about the nature of their sponsorship income in 2014 and the club’s actual wage bill.
This belief is based on the explosive contents of the Football Leaks material which Der Spiegel, and other outlets, released in a series of reports in November. The most damning claim was that Sheikh Mansour effectively funnelled funding to the club via sponsors, a clear breach of FFP rules.
For months, City refused to address the substance of these claims and instead highlighted their belief that emails between senior figures at the club had been hacked and this was the result of a coordinated campaign to malign them and their owners.
More recently, however, the Etihad-based club have also denied any wrongdoing in the first place.
The matter will now be heard by Portuguese judge José Narciso da Cunha Rodrigues, the chairman of the CFCB adjudicatory chamber, and at least three of its four members, vice-chairmen Christiaan Timmermans of the Netherlands and Switzerland’s Louis Peila, and ordinary members Charles Flint, an English barrister, and Adam Giersz, Poland’s former sports minister.
They will decide, by a majority vote, whether to uphold Leterme’s decision or not, and then which sanction to apply. These range from a warning, to a fine, to squad restrictions, to exclusion from future competitions or even the withdrawal of a title.
That, however, is still some way off, as recent FFP cases involving the likes of AC Milan and PSG, for example, have all ended up at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, where UEFA has often been on the losing side.
In the meantime, City, who face Watford in the FA Cup Final on Saturday, are still under separate investigations of their finances and transfer dealings by world football’s governing body FIFA, the Football Association and the Premier League.
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