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Europe

‘Mr Clean’ of German football admits to tax fraud

© AFP

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2013-04-22

Uli Hoeness, president of Bayern Munich and a leading public figure known for his advocacy of financial fair play, has admitted to stashing away millions of euros in a Swiss bank account.

The man who once embodied everything that was right about German football –success on the field without the financial superfluity– has admitted to stashing away millions of euros in a secret bank account in Switzerland.

Uli Hoeness, the president of Bayern Munich - the most decorated football club in Germany’s history - told the weekly Focus over the weekend that he had voluntarily informed German tax authorities in January that he hid part of his fortune across the border.

He said he had used the bank account for at least the past 10 years, but refused to divulge exactly how many millions he had kept in his Swiss bank account.

The revelation has caused a major uproar in Germany, where, until recently, Hoeness was known as the “Mr Clean” of German football.

A Bayern striker who played for the West German national team in the 1970s, he later became the Bavarian club’s coach and oversaw a golden period in which the club won major domestic and international trophies. Hoeness, 61, has been Bayern’s president since 2009.

A dream destroyed

The intense media storm now surrounding Hoeness has underscored his importance in Germany, not only in sports, but off the field as well.

Commentators have been quick to draw attention to the image of honesty and selflessness that Hoeness spent years cultivating, an image that has been suddenly and violently shattered.

“Not you, Uli!” lamented Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Bavaria’s leading newspaper on Sunday, while the popular daily Bild splashed with “Uli, you pinhead.”

Indeed, Hoeness has been a fierce critic of wastefulness in football, never missing an opportunity to slam the overblown budgets of Spanish and Italian clubs.

But he was also used to giving lessons on fiscal discipline and honesty in general.

“Maybe I'm a fool, but I've always paid my taxes in full,” he told Bild in a 2005 article. “I'm looking for success but not at any price. When it comes to money, sometimes you have to say enough is enough,” he said in another interview with the business weekly Brandeins in 2011.

Amid a wave of recent tax fraud scandals in Germany, and in neighbouring France as well, Hoeness –who is also a successful businessman- was considered by many in his home country as an example of financial success combined with moral integrity.

Only a few weeks ago the weekly Der Spiegel solemnly said that German politics “needed more people like Uli Hoeness”, viewed as a model not just for football but the country as a whole.

“Many people in Germany are now disappointed in Uli Hoeness and the chancellor is among those people,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Monday.

“[Hoeness] stands for so much that is positive,” Seibert added. “These merits remain, but another sad facet has been added.”

Date created : 2013-04-22

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