Manchester City obstructed the investigation into its finances that led to the club being fined €10-million (US$12-million), the Court of Arbitration for Sport said in a ruling published Tuesday.
In the initial judgment two weeks ago, CAS highlighted the club’s “failure to co-operate,” but the full 93-page document shed further light on how the club successfully overturned a two-year ban from European competitions imposed by the Union of European Football Associations.
“The majority of the panel finds that MCFC’s failure to co-operate with the CFCB’s investigation is a severe breach and that MCFC is to be seriously reproached for obstructing the CFCB’s investigations,” CAS said, referencing UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body.
CAS said City’s conduct should be “strongly condemned,” and it hopes the large fine will be a “sufficiently strong deterrent” to other clubs who have to comply with Financial Fair Play rules to enter the Champions League and Europa League.
CAS stressed that UEFA did not instigate “frivolous charges” and had a “legitimate basis to prosecute” City, based on leaked e-mails appearing to show the Abu Dhabi-owned club deceiving the governing body by overstating sponsorship deals from 2012-16, and hiding the source of revenue linked to state-backed companies.
City presented evidence to the CAS panel that was not given to UEFA, as well as making new witnesses available, which contributed to the decision to allow the club entry to the Champions League next season.
The initial CAS news release was topped with the declaration that City “did not disguise equity funding as sponsorship contributions.”
But on the funding from an Abu Dhabi communications firm that sponsors City, CAS said in the full verdict that the “charges with respect to equity funding being disguised as sponsorship contributions from Etisalat are time-barred.”
CAS said that alleged breaches fell outside their statute of limitations because the payments were received in June, 2012, and January, 2013.
According to details released by CAS, UEFA’s adjudicatory chamber had been “comfortably satisfied” that there was “compelling evidence,” based on leaked e-mails published in 2018 that “payments were made or caused to be made by [club owners] ADUG but attributed to the sponsorship obligations of Etisalat so as to disguise the true purpose of providing equity funding.”
The club was “well aware” that the payments ... were made as equity funding, not as payments for the sponsor on account of genuine sponsorship liabilities.
City was cleared over its sponsorship contributions from the airline Etihad, with CAS saying it was “not comfortably satisfied” the club used the sponsorship to hide the true source of funding.
UEFA-appointed investigators opened a case after leaked club e-mails and documents from City officials were published by German magazine Der Spiegel in November, 2018. They were likely obtained by a hacker from Portugal.
UEFA decided to create the FFP system 11 years ago to stabilize the soccer economy by monitoring finances of 200-plus clubs that qualify each year for its competitions. Clubs must approach break-even on commercial income and spending on transfers and salaries. Sponsor deals linked to wealthy owners must be set at fair market rates.