MANILA: Philippine boxing hero Manny Pacquiao said Tuesday authorities had frozen all his domestic bank accounts over allegations of unpaid taxes from lucrative fights in the United States, leaving him financially paralyzed.
“This is harassment,” the former eight-division world champion said in an interview on ABS-CBN television, as he disclosed for the first time a freeze order issued by the Philippines’ Bureau of Internal Revenue in recent months.
The shock announcement came just two days after Pacquiao, 34, resurrected his boxing career with a unanimous points decision over American Brandon Rios in Macau.
The victory, which Pacquiao dedicated to the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan that claimed thousands of lives in the Philippines this month, added to his luster among millions of ordinary Filipinos.
Pacquiao is now eyeing more lucrative fights in the United States. He is also pursuing a political career in the Philippines, where he is a second-term congressman with ambitions of eventually becoming president.
Pacquiao said the tax office took the action because it believed he had evaded paying 2.2 billion pesos ($50.2 million) in taxes on his fights in the United States in 2008 and 2009 when he was at the peak of his career and earning tens of millions of dollars.
He said he had already paid taxes on those earnings in the United States, which has a treaty with the Philippines that allows citizens of both countries to avoid double taxation.
However, he said the tax bureau had rejected the documents he provided to prove he had already paid the US Internal Revenue Service.
“I am not a criminal or a thief. I am not hiding anything. I will face my problems as they come,” Pacquiao said.
“I have already paid my taxes in America. Had I not paid the correct taxes they (US authorities) would have come after me and I would not have been able to travel there.” The Philippine tax bureau confirmed the local bank accounts of Pacquiao and his wife Jinkee had been frozen.
However tax commissioner Kim Henares denied any harassment, saying only two bank accounts containing a total of 1.1 million pesos were frozen.
“Don’t tell me he only has 1.1 million pesos. Where is the rest of (his) money? I have no idea. It has not been garnished (seized),” she said.
Only two domestic banks reported holding Pacquiao’s accounts, Henares said.
She said Pacquiao had failed to submit the proper documents proving he paid taxes in the United States.
Tax officials gave Pacquiao two years to respond to their assessment but all he submitted was a letter from his US promoter Top Rank saying he had paid his taxes in the United States, according to Henares.
“This is a mere scrap of paper. Anyone can write that,” she said.
Henares said she could not understand why the wealthy sports hero was bringing up the tax dispute now.
“Maybe he should hire better lawyers and accountants,” she added.
The Pacquiaos have asked the Court of Tax Appeals to lift the bank freeze, but it has yet to rule on the couple’s petition, according to court papers released to the media.
President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman Herminio Coloma brushed off suggestions Pacquiao was being singled out for political harassment.
“We are a government of laws, not of men,” Coloma told reporters.
The government has been running a campaign against high-profile tax evaders, targeting movie stars as well as businessmen who flaunt their wealth through flashy sports cars.
Pacquiao said most of his cash was kept in the Philippine bank accounts. He did not say how much had been garnished.
He said the freeze order had left him without money to pay his staff, and forced him to borrow “not less than one million pesos” to fulfill pledges to help victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan.
At his peak Pacquiao was regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, becoming the only man to win world titles in eight weight divisions.
The former street kid who ran away from home to pursue a boxing career became one of the globe’s wealthiest athletes.
But his career nosedived after suffering two losses last year, the second in a humiliating knockout to Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez that prompted questions over whether the ageing warrior should retire.
But even last year, Forbes magazine listed him as the 14th highest-paid athlete globally with an estimated $34 million in earnings.