Bayern Munich President Accepts Jail Term for Tax Evasion
In a surprise move that came hours after his lawyers revealed his intention to appeal a jail sentence of three and a half years, Hoeness announced Friday that he was quitting as president and chairman of the board of the storied Bayern Munich soccer club and preparing to serve time in jail.
“After discussing the matter with my family, I have decided to accept the judgment passed by Munich District Court II regarding my tax affairs,” Hoeness, 62, wrote in a statement. “This corresponds to my understanding of integrity, decorum and personal responsibility.”
After a four-day trial that absorbed the attention of this soccer-crazed nation, Judge Rupert Heindl ruled on Thursday that the disclosure Hoeness made to the authorities about his tax evasion was incomplete and riddled with errors, and therefore did not meet a necessary requirement of amnesty laws designed to encourage tax dodgers to come clean.
Hoeness’s decision on Friday to accept the decision earned him widespread praise from Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Bayern Munich board and the thousands of Bayern fans who have stood by the man they credit with making their team an international powerhouse (which appears poised for yet another record season in 2014).
Merkel, a soccer fan frequently seen cheering on the German national team — had lunch with Hoeness the day before he turned himself in to the authorities, and respects the decision Mr. Hoeness took today,” Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters in Berlin.
As abrupt as the about-face by Hoeness appeared, the step seemed in keeping with a man who from 2001 to 2005 began living a double life that caught up with him only in January when he turned himself in amid fears that his millions of unpaid taxes might come to light.
For years, Hoeness had cultivated a public persona of generosity and rectitude. Admired as a former national team player who helped West Germany win the World Cup on home soil in 1974, and as a managerial mastermind who helped Bayern Munich rise to unprecedented financial strength, he shared his private wealth from the bratwurst company he inherited from his family.
“I tell my players all the time, they can light five candles a day and be thankful for economic security and affection,” Hoeness said last month, after announcing plans to build a home for disadvantaged youth through a foundation he supports financially and helps run. The comment reflected the folksy, conservative tone for which he became known.
Yet behind the scenes, Hoeness played the markets, earning and losing as much as 18 million euros, or $25 million, a day and squirrelling away millions in a secret bank account in Switzerland. Although he was initially charged with withholding 3.5 million euros from the German authorities, that number multiplied as the trial unfolded over four days, first to 18.5 million, then 27.2 million and finally the 28.5 million euros (about $39.5 million) for which he was convicted.
The German news media wasted little time tallying up what the missed tax income from Hoeness could buy, with speculation ranging from the absurd — 9,487,333 bratwurst sausages at Bayern’s stadium — to the serious — 72,792 welfare stipends, or the annual salary for 1,284 state-employed nurses.
“Robbing the state of €28.5 million is a serious crime, and even Hoeness cannot hope to buy his way out of this, even if he regrets his actions,” the Bild newspaper wrote on Friday. “As hard as it is for him and his family, the judge had to send out a clear message to boost taxpayers’ morale.”
Bayern’s board sought to keep morale high at the club, which eased into the quarterfinals of the Champions League with a 1-1 tie against Arsenal this week. On Saturday, Bayern faces Bayer Leverkusen, the third-place team in the German league, which Bayern comfortably leads.
Hoeness “is very largely responsible for F.C. Bayern München becoming one of the most successful and attractive clubs in the world both in sporting and financial terms,” Herbert Hainer, the chief of Adidas, who was appointed to take over as chairman of Bayern’s board, said in a statement Friday. “We offer him heartfelt thanks and gratitude for this.”