It has been two and a half years since City, which this year reclaimed the lost title against Liverpool in 2020, became the subject of separate Premier League and UEFA investigations, with the latter issuing a ban on European competition of two years at the Club owned by City Football Group, although that decision was overturned on appeal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the club also saw a € 30m fine reduced to € 10m due to his lack of cooperation in the investigation.
But the Premier League has conducted its own investigations into alleged FFP violations, regarding allegations made in German newspaper Der Spiegel in 2018 that City overturned FFP rules by inflating sponsorship revenue, which the club denied.
The Premier League investigation began in March 2019 and both sides had agreed from the start to keep matters confidential, but the Premier League filed a disciplinary complaint against the club in August 2019, asking for the disclosure of certain documents and information, and appointed a commission to hear the complaint.
City disputed this, believing that the composition of the commission was not impartial or independent. They also, just as they did with the UEFA investigation, objected to the jurisdiction of the tribunal and claimed that the tribunal itself lacks impartiality.
In response, the league changed its rules on discipline and dispute resolution at a shareholders’ meeting in February 2020, and four months later, the arbitration tribunal dismissed the club’s claims regarding jurisdiction and impartiality.
City appealed to a commercial court over the matter, but in the meantime the Premier League continued their case, trying to force City to hand over documents and information.
City’s appeal to the commercial court was lost in March 2021, meaning City would ultimately have to face the league’s own arbitration tribunal.
The judge also dismissed the city and the league’s request to keep the details of the judgment under wraps – so the city appealed, with the league’s backing.
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This case has been taken to the Court of Appeal, and the Chancellor of the High Court, Sir Julian Flaux, last month upheld the judge’s initial decision to publish the court’s findings, and has now published the reasons for this decision.
The club had said that “public comments and speculation in the press would be detrimental to the future investigation.”
But the judge said that as long as there was no disclosure of sensitive financial or business information, releasing the findings would be in the public interest – it was a matter of justice being seen to be done.
The ruling said: “In conclusion, the judge said it was desirable that any judgment be made public in order to ensure public scrutiny and a transparent administration of justice provided that” this can be done without disclosing any important confidential information “. “
City attorney Lord Pannick QC argued that the judge erred in concluding that the publication would not involve the disclosure of important confidential information and in concluding that the club would suffer no actual harm from the publication ”, but this was rejected by the Court of Appeal.
Summing up, Sir Julian Flaux said: “I agree with the judge that the publication will not result in the disclosure of important confidential information. What will be disclosed is the existence of the dispute and the arbitration in circumstances where it is already common knowledge that the underlying Premier League investigation is ongoing.
“I consider that there is a legitimate public interest in the manner in which disputes between the Premier League and member clubs are resolved and, in particular, in the allegation of structural bias made by the club which appears to have led to a change of rules.
“In view of what is already in the public domain, the disclosure of the existence of the litigation concerning the production of documents and information could hardly give rise to any prejudice or prejudice for the club.
“The suggestion that press interest and speculation could disrupt investigation or arbitration, where both are conducted by experienced professionals, is entirely fanciful. Likewise, the suggestion that press comments and post-release speculation could harm the club’s relationship with business partners was unconvincing. “
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The Chancellor also pointed out that City deny any wrongdoing and that the Premier League investigation is still in its early stages.
He said it weighed in favor of releasing the details and criticized the League for its belated pursuit of the case.
He said: “the club made a point of stressing before us that” the arbitration procedure concerns an ongoing and confidential investigative and disciplinary process which is still in its infancy “, and that no charges may be made. is never brought against it.
“While this may be true, it seems to me that this is, if at all, a factor in favor of publication.
“This is an investigation that began in December 2018. It is surprising, and a matter of legitimate public concern, that so little progress has been made after two and a half years – in which, it can be noted , the club have twice been crowned Premier League champions.
The CAS decision to overturn UEFA’s decision was based on a lack of evidence from European football’s governing body, with the investigation proceeding at a steady pace and under public scrutiny.
But Liverpool and the rest of City’s title rivals will be looking to see what emerges from a longer investigation into alleged City FFP violations by the Premier League, and whether competitive or financial penalties will be imposed in the event that they are. found. guilty.
UEFA, following the failed European Super League plot in which Liverpool and City were an important part, are keen to revamp their FFP rules which have long been seen as toothless following failed investigations on alleged violations, including at Paris Saint-Germain. .
UEFA wants to see tighter financial controls around football clubs and their spending in a bid to cut wages and wild fees that have been supported by heavy spending from clubs backed by sovereign wealth funds. Finding a more sustainable way for football to function is at the top of their agenda. And for Reds owners Fenway Sports Group, given their own more business-oriented football club ownership strategy, that would be a welcome change.
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