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Court Cases

'Hoeness bound to face prison'

Uli Hoeness, president of the storied Bayern Munich soccer club, is in court defending charges of tax fraud. In a DW interview, journalist and lawyer Heribert Prantl says that a prison sentence is inevitable.

DW: Uli Hoeness is now said to have evaded 27 million euros ($37 million) in taxes. How will that likely affect his sentence?

Heribert Prantl: He'll have to assume imprisonment. The defense's hope is surely that, through drastic confessions, the unveiling of all accounts, and all cases of tax fraud, he can somehow reach the safe shores of parole. But sentences of up to two years cannot be ruled out. With this outrageous sum, we're at the level of severe tax evasion. That's punishable by imprisonment of six months to ten years.

Does that therefore make him untenable as president of Bayern Munich?

Prof. Dr. Heribert Prantl

Prof. Dr. Heribert Prantl

Of course it's not acceptable for someone who committed fraud of this magnitude to be at the head of such a well-known establishment. The supervisory board had previously left Hoeness in office because throughout the whole of last year he protested that his disclosure of January 2013 had been done to the best of his knowledge and belief. There are regulations that allow tax evaders to escape criminal liability through comprehensive disclosure. Uli Hoeness always acted as if he believed that, through his disclosure, he had earned his exemption from punishment. Even during his testimony at the first trial, though, he showed that the disclosure represented just a fraction of the evaded taxes. The exemption from criminality is therefore void.

How can someone who's often seen as a public role model contradict that image so radically?

Uli Hoeness has two faces - on the one hand, the lovable, socially engaged Uli Hoeness, as quite a lot of people see him, on the other, there is the gambler, the greedy Ulrich Hoeness. He showed the second in these acts of tax fraud. It's almost like the story of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Before the trial started, Hoeness appeared very surprised at how the prosecution dealt with him. Do you believe he now understands how serious the situation is?

I've never seen an accusation develop this way within just two days. According to testimony from Hoeness on Monday (10.03.2014), it was assumed he had evaded taxes of 3.5 million euros. Now we're at a clean 27 million. The case has exploded.

I think that now the seriousness of the situation for Hoeness is really clear - or at least, since the time when his own defense lawyer snubbed him with the memorable phrase, "Don't tell us any fairy tales." I've rarely experienced a situation where the defense socks one to its own client in a public hearing. It was a final act to make clear to a stubborn client that the period of evasion and excuses is now over.

Is the assumption that the trial would last until Thursday no longer valid?

All talk shows are working on the assumption that the judgment will be handed down on Thursday, and they've planned their evening broadcasts accordingly. I'm not assuming that anymore. The court is completely surprised at the new dimensions. You cannot understand hundereds of thousands of bank transactions within a few days. And the grand total should be the basis for the assessment of guilt and criminal liability. Finally, an expert's office must be set up to work through the details for weeks, if not months. In my view, the judge will have to adjourn the proceedings.

You could almost pity the talk show editors

Exactly. And I'm sorry for the judge. I'm also sorry for the prosecutor, and somewhere you also feel sorry for Uli Hoeness, who definitely has his merits and has made Bayern Munich into one of the world's best teams - but at the same time got himself into such a predicament that it makes you shudder.

How will people remember Uli Hoeness?

Both faces of Uli Hoeness will remain: the man who made Bayern Munich a world team, and at the same time, the one who put himself beyond the pale.

Heribert Prantl spent several years as a prosecutor and judge. He's now a member of the Süddeutsche Zeitung editorial board and heads its domestic politics desk.

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