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Bayern chief charged with German tax evasion

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

Prosecutors charged Bayern Munich's powerful president Uli Hoeness with tax evasion Tuesday, a court said, after a months-long, high-profile probe that has rocked German sport and politics.

The superior regional court in Munich said in a statement that it must now decide whether the case brought by the local prosecutor's office against the chairman of Germany's most successful football club will go to trial.

"Due to the volume of the investigation files as well as the fact that a defence request to delay answering to the charges for one month was granted, a decision by the court on starting a trial is not to be expected before the end of September 2013," court spokeswoman Andrea Titz said in the statement.

She said the court would not provide further details on the proceedings before it takes its decision.

Hoeness, 61, a giant of the European sports world, was arrested on March 20, then released on bail for five million euros ($6.6 million), as part of an investigation into unpaid taxes on a Swiss account in his name.

He admitted in a magazine interview published in April that he had stashed millions of euros away from the German taxman thanks to Switzerland's bank secrecy laws.

Hoeness said he had at first turned himself in to authorities in January over an unspecified amount of unpaid taxes.

He had originally hoped to come forward under an expected German-Swiss tax accord which would have allowed him to settle the matter anonymously with a one-off payment, he told the Focus news weekly.

But Germany's political opposition -- which will seek to unseat Chancellor Angela Merkel in a September 22 election -- torpedoed the measure on the grounds that it unfairly offered criminal amnesty to tax dodgers.

The amount of money Hoeness, who also draws income from a successful sausage company, has stashed in the Swiss account, and the taxes owed, were unclear as he and prosecutors have stayed quiet on the details, but were reported to be in the millions of euros.

However subsequent accounts have said that a significant portion of the assets may be subject to the statute of limitations, thus bringing the amount in question below one million euros.

Hoeness has already paid at least 3.2 million euros in back taxes to German authorities, according to news reports that have not cited sources.

He apologised for the scandal in May and offered to temporarily stand down as Bayern president.

But the team's board decided he should stay in office, saying it would continue to "monitor" the investigation into the former midfielder who won the 1974 World Cup with West Germany.

The club declined to comment on the charges Tuesday.

"We're not talking about that," spokesman Markus Hoerwick said.

The revelations have sparked huge controversy in an election year as Merkel's opponents charge she has been weak on the issue of tax evasion by wealthy Germans.

Merkel herself has admitted she was "disappointed" in Hoeness' alleged conduct.

Meanwhile Bayern have had a remarkably successful streak, becoming the first German team last season to win the hat trick of European, league and cup titles.

Hoeness is a larger-than-life figure in the German public consciousness, having survived a serious car accident and walked away from a plane crash in the course of his career.

With 35 appearances for West Germany, Hoeness, alongside Franz Beckenbauer and goal-scoring ace Gerd Mueller, was at the heart of the Bayern team which won the European Cup in three consecutive seasons between 1974-76.

Spending nearly nine years as a Bayern player, Hoeness won eight titles with the Bavarian giants, until a persistent knee injury forced him to retire when still just 27.

When his career finished in 1979, he brought the same drive he had shown on the pitch to his new role as general manager and when Beckenbauer stood down as Bayern president in 2009, Hoeness was ready to succeed him.

He was instrumental in pulling off arguably the biggest signing in the club's history in January when it was announced they had lured Spanish coach Pep Guardiola to Munich from under the noses of several English Premier League clubs.

But Hoeness has admitted the tax evasion scandal has since taken a heavy toll on him, telling a newspaper in May he had suffered sleepless nights and been going through "hell" since his arrest.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130730/bayern-chief-charged-german-tax-evasion-0