The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Friday overturned a European ban imposed on AC Milan for violating UEFA’s financial fair play rules, calling the punishment “not proportionate.”
UEFA banned Milan from playing in next season’s Europa League, citing the club’s failure to meet the “break-even requirement,” which bars clubs from taking on debt to fund daily operations, but the court ruled that “some important elements have not been properly assessed” by UEFA judges.
The court agreed with UEFA’s assessment that the club was in breach of break-even rules, but found that the “current financial situation of the club was now better following the recent change in the club’s ownership.”
“The decision ... to exclude AC Milan from the UEFA club competition was not proportionate,” a CAS statement said.
The court referred the case back to UEFA as requested by AC Milan, whose executives argued their appeal at the Lausanne-based court on Thursday.
The court “considers that the [UEFA’s] Adjudicatory Chamber is in a better position than the CAS panel to issue a new proportionate disciplinary measure on the basis of the current financial situation of the club,” the statement said.
AC Milan have spent a troubled 15 months since they were bought by Chinese businessman Li Yonghong from former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in April last year.
The takeover was partly funded by a high-interest loan of 300 million euros (US$351.91 million at the current exchange rate) from US hedge fund Elliott Management.
When Milan failed to make a repayment at the start of this month, Elliott moved to take over, a process that was due to be ratified by club shareholders yesterday.
The Chinese owners last summer spent more than 200 million euros on players and that, combined with the terms of the Elliott loan, triggered the interest of UEFA.
At the end of last month, UEFA ruled that Milan were in breach of “the break-even requirement.”
AC Milan managing director Marco Fassone has blamed the club’s woes on Berlusconi, but the Chinese ownership of the club was also clouded by questions over the source of Li’s wealth.
The New York Times in October last year said that “virtually nobody” in China had ever heard of him.
Elliot, now in full control, has pledged to inject 50 million euros to bring financial stability to the seven-time European champions.
“Elliott is pleased that we were able to support AC Milan at the CAS, and that our intervention was able to achieve a positive result for the club,” the group said in a statement.
“Playing in Europe is part of the heritage of AC Milan and to have been excluded would have been a shame,” it added. “We will now work hard to rebuild the credibility of the club with UEFA and show that we can succeed on the pitch while respecting UEFA ... rules. Today’s legal victory is an important first step in the rehabilitation of AC Milan.”
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