Manchester City was “strongly condemned” by a Court of Arbitration for Sport panel for obstructing the investigation into its finances that led to the club being fined €10 million ($12 million).
The full 93-page document published by CAS provides fuller detail on the verdict delivered two weeks ago that overturned City’s two-year ban from European competitions when findings of financial wrongdoing by UEFA were rejected.
CAS did not back up UEFA’s verdict that City disguised the source of sponsorships from companies linked to its Abu Dhabi ownership in order to comply with Financial Fair Play rules to enter the Champions League and Europa League. But the court imposed one of the biggest fines in football history, albeit reduced by two thirds from UEFA’s original penalty.
The case was sparked by City’s internal correspondence that was obtained by German magazine Der Spiegel.
City’s “blatant disregard” for cooperating with the investigation should be “strongly condemned,” CAS found, expressing hope the large fine would be a “sufficiently strong deterrent” to other clubs.
“The majority of the panel finds that MCFC’s failure to cooperate 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 stressed that UEFA did not instigate “frivolous charges” and had a “legitimate basis to prosecute” City based on leaked emails appearing to show the Abu Dhabi-owned club deceived the governing body by overstating sponsorship deals from 2012-16 and hid the source of revenue linked to state-backed companies in the emirate.
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 panel cannot put itself in the shoes of the adjudicatory chamber at the time of issuance of the appealed decision,” CAS said, “but it finds that the possibility cannot be excluded that adjudicatory chamber may have reached the same conclusions as the panel in the present proceedings, had such evidence been made available to it.”
City was cleared over its sponsorship contributions from the the airline Etihad, with CAS saying it was “not comfortably satisfied” the the club used the sponsorship to hide the true source of funding.
But CAS found alleged breaches relating to Abu Dhabi communications firm Etisalat fell outside their statute of limitations to be investigated because the payments were received in June 2012 and January 2013.
“The evidence clearly demonstrates that Etisalat and Etihad met their sponsorship obligations in full in return for valuable rights and that the sponsorship payments were not funded” by City’s parent company in Abu Dhabi, CAS said.
UEFA-appointed investigators opened a case after leaked club emails and documents from City officials were published by 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.
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