Becker admits mistake as tax trial startsPosted: Wednesday October 23, 2002 6:54 AM
Updated: Wednesday October 23, 2002 2:06 PM
MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - German prosecutors asked a court on Wednesday to jail Boris Becker for tax evasion after the former tennis great confessed he had made a mistake by failing to pay $3 million in taxes during his career.
State prosecutor Matthias Musiol said the three-time Wimbledon champion had intentionally filed false returns between 1991 and 1993. He added Becker should be sentenced for three years and six months in prison for the offence.
Becker, 34, appeared stunned by the prosecution's closing arguments and jail demand. He had paid $3 million last week to cover the back tax and interest due, and had been hoping his confession would lead to a suspended sentence at most.
Becker's face turned pale and he quickly brushed past reporters as he left the court without comment.
"I thought I was an honest guy," he said earlier.
Judge Huberta Knoeringer said the trial of one of the country's biggest post-war heroes that began on Wednesday would continue on Thursday.
"The defendant's claims are simply not believable," said Musiol in his closing arguments.
"He acted in a pre-meditated fashion to evade taxes, conceal his residence in Germany, as well as hinder investigations over the last 10 years."
Musiol said that even though Becker had admitted his error at the start of the trial and paid the back tax, the fallen German tennis hero broke the law and deserved to go to jail.
"After seven years of denial, he admitted his crime at the start of the trial and paid the back taxes," Musiol said. "This was a last-minute confession. It is not enough."
Musiol said Becker had evaded taxes worth millions of marks and therefore was guilty of severe tax evasion. He said the late confession and payment were mitigating factors and that, as a result, prosecutors would not seek the full five-year sentence.
Becker's lawyers said his crimes did not warrant jail. They argued that he had paid 45 million marks ($22 million) in German tax since moving his residence back to Germany in 1994 and had also now paid another six million marks in tax for 1991 to 1993.
"Should Boris Becker end in up jail next to a rapist?" asked defense lawyer Klaus Volk.
"Putting Becker in jail would be senseless and unfathomable. We urge the judge not to make a verdict that would rule out probation."
Becker could end up in jail if judges convict him and hand him a sentence of more than two years. With sentences of up to two years, the court can let the defendant free on probation. Becker would have to regularly report to the police his whereabouts.
State prosecutors said Becker, who retired from competitive tennis three years ago, had claimed he was living abroad in the tax haven of Monaco between 1991 and 1993 when he was actually living in Germany most of the time.
Becker said he had moved his residency to Monte Carlo in 1984 at the age of 16 when his tennis career began to train with other professional players.
"The only thing I had on my mind was tennis, and sometimes girls," Becker said. "My life was all about tennis. My office was the whole world. The word home didn't really exist."
Becker said he moved to Munich because he said he felt "more comfortable" in Germany even though he knew taxes were higher.
"I wanted to enjoy the quality of life in Germany again and start a family here," he said.
After years of investigation, Becker was originally charged with withholding taxes worth 10.4 million marks ($5 million). That amount was reduced after Becker lawyers produced some off-setting losses and moved income to other years.
The trial started with Becker openly admitting wrongdoing.
"I admit that I made a mistake 10 years ago and I know that I will have to pay the consequences for that," he said.
"I cannot be accused of hiding money or any other criminal acts. I stayed at times in a spartan flat in Munich between the autumn of 1991 and 1993 that had just a bed and a couch but didn't even have a refrigerator."
Becker amassed $25 million in prize money during a career spanning more than 15 years and he also made many millions from endorsements and other deals.
Since retiring after playing Wimbledon in 1999, he lost much of his fortune to a costly divorce and in a messy settlement with a woman who had his child. He has also had a string of failed businesses.
The Becker case echoes the woes of Germany's other tennis darling, Steffi Graf, whose father and manager Peter spent nearly two years in jail after being convicted in 1997 of evading $7 million in tax on his daughter's earnings.
It also puts a spotlight on loopholes in the country's high tax rate of 48.5 percent and on its tenacious tax collectors.
Becker burst into the limelight with his first Wimbledon triumph as a teenager in 1985, a victory that ushered in a tennis boom in what was then West Germany.
One of Germany's most popular celebrities, he went on to win
a total six grand slam titles, including two Australian Opens
and one U.S. Open crown.
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