BERLIN – Uli Hoeness won’t appeal against his prison sentence for tax evasion, and stepped down Friday as president of European champion Bayern Munich to prevent damage to the club he described as his “life’s work.”
Hoeness, one of the most prominent figures in German football, was convicted on Thursday of evading millions of euros (dollars) in tax through an undeclared Swiss bank account and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. The verdict drew a largely positive response in a country where tax evasion is deeply and increasingly frowned upon.
Hoeness’ lawyer initially said he would file an appeal. However, Hoeness said in a brief statement on Bayern’s website that he decided after talking with his family to accept the verdict.
“This corresponds with my personal understanding of decency, attitude and personal responsibility,” he wrote. “Tax evasion was the mistake of my life. I am facing up to the consequences of this mistake.”
Hoeness said he was stepping down immediately as club president and as the chairman of Bayern’s supervisory board. He said he wanted “to prevent damage to my club.”
“Bayern Munich is my life’s work and it will always remain so,” he said. “I will remain linked with this great club and its people in other ways as long as I live.”
Hoeness thanked Bayern supporters and his friends for their support. The club stood by him through the investigation.
Last year’s revelations that Hoeness was the target of a tax evasion investigation prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman to say the German leader was disappointed in the Bayern president, who also was well-known for his generosity and charity work. Hoeness supported an effort to improve the integration of immigrants that Merkel also backed.
“I don’t comment on court decisions, of course, but I can say that the fact Uli Hoeness has now accepted this verdict commands my highest respect,” Merkel said after a meeting with business leaders in Munich.
Hoeness’ lawyers argued for probation in the tax case, based on the fact that he turned himself in to authorities last year. Prosecutors sought a 5 1/2-year sentence; the legal maximum for tax evasion is 10 years.
Prosecutors also are entitled to appeal, but made no immediate decision on whether they will.
Bayern said Herbert Hainer, the chief executive of sportswear maker Adidas, will serve as supervisory board chairman until further notice. He was previously deputy chairman.
There was no immediate word on who will succeed Hoeness as Bayern president.
Coach Pep Guardiola said he had seen in his nine months at Bayern “how important Uli Hoeness is for this club.”
“He is my friend and he will remain my friend,” Guardiola said at a news conference ahead of Saturday’s home match against third-place Bayer Leverkusen. “We have to carry on with what we have learned from Uli.”
Bayern won the Bundesliga, Champions League and German Cup last season and could repeat that treble this season.
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.
Under his guidance as general manager, Bayern built financial reserves rarely seen in debt-ridden European football.