Bayern Munich president Hoeness found guilty of tax evasion, sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison

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MUNICH – Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness was found guilty and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison on Thursday for evading millions of euros (dollars) in tax through an undeclared Swiss bank account.

The 62-year-old Hoeness, one of the most powerful figures in German football, was initially charged with dodging 3.5 million euros ($4.85 million) in taxes through the Swiss account.

But when his trial opened on Monday he admitted to avoiding 15 million euros more. Then it came out through an examination of documents he provided to investigators shortly before the trial that he owed 27.2 million euros in total — a number Hoeness did not dispute.

Hoeness faced up to 10 years in prison, and the sentence came between the 5 1/2 years suggested by the prosecution and the defence’s plea for probation, based on the fact that he turned himself in for tax evasion and provided details to the court, the dpa news agency reported.

Following the verdict, defence attorney Hanns Feigen said he would appeal the decision to see how a higher court would value Hoeness’ “not ideal” confession. He added he was convinced the appeals court would come to a “better result” than the Munich state court did.

Hoeness will remain free on bail pending the outcome of the appeal.

German authorities have been cracking down on tax evaders in recent years, and have recovered hundreds of millions of euros. Their widely publicized purchase of leaked account information on thousands of investors, as well as high-profile cases such as that against Hoeness and former Deutsche Post AG CEO Klaus Zumwinkel, has led to thousands of people turning themselves in.

Hoeness, who also is part owner of a Nuremberg sausage factory, reported himself to the tax authorities last April — around the same time that German media were investigating reports of high-profile tax evaders.

News of the case against the national icon prompted even Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman to weigh in and say the country’s leader was disappointed in him.

As a player, Hoeness was a Bayern star who won the 1972 European Championship and the 1974 World Cup with West Germany and three straight European Cups — the predecessor of the Champions League — before retiring in 1979 with chronic knee problems.

He became the Bundesliga’s youngest coach when he was 27.

Bayern has been enjoying unprecedented success under Hoeness’ presidency. The club stood by him during the investigation, and its supervisory board was expected to meet following the verdict to see what steps to take next.

Bayern officials met to discuss the verdict, but a reaction from the club would not be published before Friday, dpa reported.

The German football association said in a statement it was surprised by the “dimension of the entire incident.”

While it praised Hoeness’ achievements for German football, the body said “the legal evaluation of such a case can only be done by the courts and there the law applies to Uli Hoeness as it applies to everyone.”

In three decades as manager and president of Bayern, Hoeness conducted a prudent financial policy that left the club not only without debts but with a fat bank account.

Hoeness refused to spend lavishly on foreign superstars but brought in the best of German talent. In recent years, Bayern started spending more on players and the result was its first treble last season, when it won the Champions League, the Bundesliga and the German Cup.

The club is on course to win the Bundesliga again — perhaps even undefeated — and could become the first team to defend the Champions League title. Another treble was possible.

Hoeness was also instrumental in signing coach Pep Guardiola.

With sponsors Adidas, Audi and Allianz — which each have an 8.33-per cent stake in the club — Bayern has some of Germany’s best known companies behind it. The club has also paid off its stadium.

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