After an investigation lasting more than four years, Manchester City have been charged by the Premier League with more than 100 breaches of its financial rules.
They have now referred the case to an independent commission over the rule breaches which cover the period between 2009 and 2018.
The club has also been charged with not cooperating with the inquiry which began in December 2018 and deliberately frustrating its due process.
Should some or all the allegations be proven, then the club faces an almost limitless range of penalties, ranging from a fine, a points deduction, or even expulsion from the league.
There is also the possibility of stripping them of some of the titles they won during the period under investigation, although that is a potential legal minefield. That leaves the Premier League and City potentially facing action in the courts from clubs who were denied European football or their place in the league itself because City had, in effect, been financial doping.
The essence of the charges is that City failed to provide accurate information that enabled the Premier League to get a true picture of their financial situation, and were less than transparent when it came to club revenue, sponsorship income and operating expenses.
Among the specific allegations are that Roberto Mancini, who was in charge of the club between 2009 and 2013 had a “shadow” contract. That saw him earn more under an arrangement with the club’s Abu Dhabi holding company, than he did from his declared salary as City manager.
There have also been accusations of distorting player remuneration during the period under investigation.
The proceedings of the commission – which will be headed by Murray Rosen KC – will be held in private and the discussions remain confidential.
City have been here before.
In 2018 the German newspaper Der Spiegel published leaked documents which purported to show that City had inflated the value of a sponsorship deal. That led to an investigation by UEFA who ruled that City had committed serious breaches of FFP (Financial Fair Play) between 2012 and 2016.
The club were fined heavily and were banned from European Competition for two years.
However, after the club appealed to CAS (the Court of Arbitration to Sport), the ban was rescinded and the fine reduced.
A crucial difference this time is that, as far as CAS were concerned, part of the evidence was time limited and the statute of limitations had run out. No such constraints apply to the Premier League evidence – they can go back as far as they like.
Anybody expecting a swift resolution to this case is likely to be disappointed.
It has taken four years to get to this point and City have employed a phalanx of lawyers to try and get the investigation stopped. They will examine each of the charges forensically, and attempt to disprove all of them.
That means also that the costs involved with the case will be exorbitant.
Even if they are found guilty on some or all of the charges, there will be an appeals process that could take years.
Current manager Pep Guardiola has insisted that he has been told by his employers that they have done nothing wrong, and he has said that he would review his position if that turned out not to be the case.
Is the timing convenient?
Some have argued that the timing of the announcement that City is under investigation is convenient and comes just before the UK government is about to confirm their intention to appoint an independent financial regulator. They believe that it is an attempt by the Premier League to show that it is capable of getting its own house in order.
There is also the view that the League was forced to do something.
It has been a long held view that City, effectively owned by the Abu Dhabi state, have bought their way to success and have ridden roughshod over FFP rules.
For the sake of the league’s credibility, the accusations must now be investigated once and for all. If City are innocent, then the matter can be put to bed for once and all.
But if they are found guilty, then they must be sanctioned and the punishment must be seen to fit the crime.
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