By Andrew Warshaw
November 23 – In an unprecedented ruling that has stunned officials in France and led to a quick reaction from UEFA, Paris St-Germain full-back Serge Aurier has been refused entry to the United Kingdom because of a recent criminal conviction and will miss tonight’s crucial Champions League match against Arsenal which will decide which of them tops their group.
The Ivorian, 23, was handed a two-month suspended prison sentence in September for assaulting a police officer. PSG insist the British authorities originally granted Aurier a visa in October but revoked it on November 16, citing his conviction even though it is being appealed.
UEFA expressed “deep disappointment” in the ruling which critics suggested was an early example of the hardline immigration policy of the new-look British government in the light of Brexit.
Describing the timing as “a lack of respect”, the French champions were furious that they were only informed of the decision the afternoon before the game “despite the club working for the last six days to find a solution to enable our player to travel with his teammates to London”.
The fact that Aurier is appealing means, according to PSG, that he is entitled to be presumed innocent.
“Paris Saint-Germain had, in all transparency, informed the British authorities of this conviction, as well as Aurier’s appeal against this decision (and the legal suspension of the ruling) from the outset,” PSG said.
“The club has argued several times that since the player has launched a legal appeal against the criminal ruling, he is therefore entitled to the presumption of innocence, as any other person exercising their right to appeal. Paris St-Germain strongly regrets the presumption of innocence has not influenced Britain’s decision.”
“On several occasions, UEFA has also transmitted its total support of Paris Saint-Germain to the British authorities regarding this case, in order to preserve the integrity of its competitions.
“Paris Saint-Germain considers this extremely tardive response as a flagrant lack of respect for the club, given that its player could have been training with the team just hours later at Emirates Stadium.”
Britain’s Home Office countered that “we reserve the right to refuse a visa to anyone who is convicted of criminal offences.”
“The immigration rules clearly state that non-EU nationals who have received a custodial sentence of less than 12 months within the last five years will be refused on criminality grounds.
But UEFA immediately threw its support behind PSG saying it sent letters both to the British government and the English Football Association and that it was “regrettable” Aurier could not play “for reasons which are not related to football and its regulations”.
PSG manager Unai Emery said the club “did everything in its power” to have Aurier available for their penultimate game in Group A. His side go into the game level on 10 points with Arsenal with both clubs assured of a place in the knockout stages but vying for top spot.
Andrew Osborne, joint head of sport at law firm Lewis Silkin, summed up the feelings of most neutral observers by arguing that the ruling was unjustified.
“Given that the player has given full disclosure of the offence, that he will only be in the UK for a very short period and that he has an outstanding appeal this seems a harsh decision,” Osborne said.
“ The timing of the initial approval and then late change of heart to revoke the visa is also tough and causes PSG maximum difficulty. This looks like another example of the ‘hostile’ immigration environment that the current Government want to cultivate.”
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