Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness admits to tax evasion; faces possible prison term

BERLIN – Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness admitted Monday to dodging millions of euros in taxes through an undeclared Swiss bank account at a trial that could see one of the most powerful figures in German soccer receive a lengthy prison sentence.

Prosecutor Achim von Engel told the Munich state court that Hoeness evaded 3.5 million euros (US$4.9 million) in taxes by concealing 33 million euros income in the Swiss bank account, the dpa news agency reported.

Hoeness reported himself to authorities in early 2013, and the court will have to determine whether he did that because he had become aware there was an investigation against him or for other reasons, which will affect the sentence he receives. If found guilty he faces anything from a fine to 10 years in prison.

No pleas are entered in the German system. But as the trial opened, Hoeness, who also is part owner of a Nuremberg sausage factory, said he had hoped to avoid the case going to court by reporting himself to authorities.

“I evaded taxes,” he told the court. “I’m aware that reporting myself doesn’t change this fact.”

Hoeness’ attorney, Hanns Feigen, volunteered that his client had evaded far more than charged, saying the total figure was 18.5 million euros.

Hoeness told the court he was glad that all the details were “transparently on the table.”

“I deeply regret my wrongdoing,” he said. “I will do everything necessary to ensure that this depressing chapter for me is closed.”

The Bayern boss said he had used the Swiss bank account to trade stocks, conducting tens of thousands of transactions between 2001 and 2010.

Hoeness noted that he had donated millions of euros to charities.

“I’m no social parasite,” he told the court.

Four days have been scheduled for hearings, with a verdict expected on Thursday.

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.

News of the case against Hoeness, one of the most prominent figures in German football, emerged last April, prompting 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.

Bayern has been enjoying unprecedented success under Hoeness’ presidency. His friend Jupp Heynckes led the side to the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup wins last season, and Bayern is favoured to repeat the treble under successor Pep Guardiola, who has been breaking records this season.

Things are looking good off the field, too. Last month the club announced that insurance giant Allianz had acquired a stake alongside sporting goods maker Adidas and car manufacturer Audi for 110 million euros ($150.44 million).

Each of the three partners holds an 8.33-per cent stake as a result of the capital increase, with the remaining 75 per cent being owned by club members.