International soccer player Adrian Mutu must pay more than $22 million to English Premiere League club Chelsea for breaking his contract by testing positive for cocaine, a federal judge ruled.
Romanian-born Mutu played soccer for Italian club AC Parma until August 2003, when he was transferred to Chelsea for 22.5 million British pounds sterling. Mutu signed a five-year contract with Chelsea, with an annual salary of 2.35 million pounds, a signing bonus and an incremental payment of 500,000 euros to Mutu's agent.
In the second year of the contract, Mutu tested positive for cocaine, and Chelsea terminated his contract. FIFA, the soccer world's governing body, temporarily banned Mutu from play worldwide. The English Football Association also suspended him for seven months.
Mutu appealed Chelsea's decision with the Premier League's board of directors, which found that he had breached his contract without just cause. The Court of Arbitration for Sport, in Lausanne, Switzerland, dismissed Mutu's appeal.
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In 2008, FIFA ordered Mutu to pay Chelsea 17.1 million euros, the unamortized portions of the transfer fee Chelsea had paid to Parma, including the signing bonus and the agent's fee.
Both the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Swiss Federal Supreme Court rejected Mutu's appellate claims.
Chelsea then asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to confirm and enforce the arbitration award.
Mutu argued that the award was penal and contrary to public policy, but U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno found that the unamortized costs were related to the actual damages caused by Mutu's breach of contract, and thus did not violate public policy.
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"Here, the Court for Arbitration of Sports reasonably relates the arbitral award to the actual damages, providing its rationale that 'a club that paid a substantial fee to a former club to secure the services of a player may suffer severe financial consequences if that player unilaterally breaches his contract,'" Moreno wrote.
Even if the arbitral award was based on a penalty clause unenforceable under FIFA regulations, as Mutu argued, it is still valid under English law, the ruling states.
The court confirmed the award, finding that it was not so unjust that "enforcement would violate the most basic notions of morality and justice."
Mutu's Romanian attorney, Cristian Sarbu, who did not handle Mutu's appeals against Chelsea, declined to comment on the decision.
Mutu began his professional career in Romania with his home club FC Arges Pitesti. He has played as a striker for Chelsea and six different Italian clubs since 2000 and has scored more than 170 goals. In June 2011, Italian club Cesena signed Mutu on a two-year contract.