Munich, Germany: A German court on Thursday sentenced football legend Uli Hoeness, president of powerhouse club Bayern Munich, to three-and-a-half years in jail for evading millions in taxes.
“In the name of the people, Mr Ulrich Hoeness is sentenced for seven serious counts of tax evasion to a prison term of three years and six months,” said judge Rupert Heindl in the Munich court.
The verdict — with one count for each year of tax cheating — spelled the likely end of the career of the stocky former player, whose trial has captivated football-obsessed Germany.
Hoeness, 62, had admitted to dodging 27.2 million euros (Dh138.56 million) in taxes by hiding his wealth in Swiss bank accounts, while obsessively “gambling” on stocks and currencies for years.
He was allowed to walk out of the court for now because he has one week to decide whether to appeal the verdict.
His defence lawyers had argued he should escape punishment or at least receive a suspended term because he turned himself in to authorities in January last year.
Interest has been huge in the case, with newspapers giving it front-page treatment and people lining up outside the courtroom from early morning Thursday to get a seat in the visitors gallery.
Hoeness, who was a star player in the 1970s, had so far stayed on as president of the European club. He has also run a lucrative sausage business and been a conservative TV talk-show regular.
He was expected to quickly step down as club president and chairman of its supervisory board, which had so far expressed its loyalty.
When he entered the dock on Monday, the Bavarian ruefully confessed to large-scale tax fraud worth 18.5 million euros, almost five times more than prosecutors had assumed.
His vow of full disclosure was, however, contradicted the next day by a tax officer, who testified that Hoeness had cheated the state out of far more money: 27.2 million euros.
Hoeness had first turned himself in and paid 10 million euros in back taxes on January 17 last year, at a time when tax investigators and journalists were already pursuing his case.
In March, police raided his lakeside villa and briefly arrested him, then released him on five million euros’ bail, developments which were only reported in the media weeks later.
Hoeness has said he originally wanted to benefit from a tax deal Germany was negotiating with Switzerland, which would have guaranteed immunity for tax dodgers, who come clean voluntarily.
However, the amnesty deal was torpedoed by the German centre-left political opposition of the time, which argued that wealthy tax criminals should not be let off the hook so easily.