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Bayern boss Hoeness jailed for 31/2 years

ULI-HOENESSMUNICH, March 13 – 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.

Earlier, German prosecutors demanded five and a half years’ jail Thursday for Bayern Munich boss Uli Hoeness for evading millions in taxes.

Prosecutor Achim von Engel sought the prison term for major tax fraud ahead of a verdict expected after 1300 GMT in a trial that has captivated football-obsessed Germany.

Hoeness, 62, has admitted to dodging 27.2 million euros ($37.6 million) in taxes by hiding his wealth in Swiss bank accounts while obsessively “gambling” on stocks and currencies.

However, his defence lawyers have argued he should escape punishment because he turned himself in to authorities in January last year.

The key question in the Munich trial is whether the self-reporting was valid and complete and therefore qualifies Hoeness for reduced penalties.

Prosecutors argue that he only provided information that was useful for tax authorities in the weeks before the trial.

“There has not been an effective self-reporting which would prevent prosecution,” said von Engel.

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He said such a declaration must include at least as much detail as a tax return and that “this hasn’t been the case until now”.

He acknowledged that Hoeness had already endured serious mental stress amid a “tremendous media storm” but argued that this doesn’t mean he should walk free.

– ‘Hoeness wanted to gamble’ –

The defence argued that Hoeness’ 2013 declaration contained at worst formal errors and should be considered valid.

It also asked the panel to consider Hoeness’ “lifetime achievement” and so far clean criminal record and asked that, if a jail term were imposed, it be suspended.

Defence lawyer Hanns Feigen said the case was atypical of tax evasion.

“The usual tax evader hoards his money in Switzerland,” he said, arguing that Hoeness just “wanted to gamble, he did not want to accumulate money”.

Interest has been huge in the case, with people queueing outside the courtroom from early morning Thursday to get a seat in the visitors gallery.

Hoeness, who was a star player in the 1970s, is the former general manager and current president of the European powerhouse club, and also a successful businessman and conservative TV talk-show regular.

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When he entered the dock Monday, the stocky 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.

Several politicians have challenged Hoeness to quickly step down as club president and chairman of its supervisory board, while many players, fans and veterans have voiced their continued loyalty and support.

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