A sports boss turns out a tax dodger, and politicians from all sides are discussing the matter. Five months before general elections, the case of Bayern's Hoeness has taken on particular significance.
Bayern Munich boss Uli Hoeness admitted his own wrongdoing - by filing an amended tax return that showed he avoided paying taxes by means of a Swiss bank account. The amount in question is currently mere speculation; newspaper reports suggest that he might not have paid several million euros that he owed. The case has received massive public attention and has now become a point of political contention in Berlin.
The case has drawn so much attention because Hoeness is a former national player and now the president of Bayern Munich. That makes him among the most successful and powerful sports figures in the country. The 61-year-old has had an impact on German soccer like hardly anyone else. He turned Bayern into a world-famous and very rich club - achievements he has called his life's work. And the club is now in a better position than ever. The team wins match after match, and the club's financial profits put other German clubs to shame.
On Tuesday, Bayern is to face Barcelona in the Champion's League semi-final in a clash of two titans.
Hoeness also has a reputation for straightforwardness and charitable acts. He has personally donated millions to social causes, while encouraging others to do the same. The long-celebrated manager even helped other football teams who were in financial trouble by setting up friendlies with Bayern.
Players in need of support also turned to Hoeness. Among them were Gerd Müller, who struggled with alcoholism, and Sebastian Deisler, who suffered from depression.
"Hoeness was a role model for many and an interesting interlocutor," said Dagmar Freitag, chairwoman of the sport committee of Germany's parliament, the Bundestag. Politicians were eager to be seen with him, and he was also glad to be seen in public with them, she told DW.
A deep fall
The club president and former Bundesliga player has won much recognition for his work. Aside from sports awards, he received an award in 2010 for moral courage from children's charity Bündnis für Kinder. Two years later, he earned the Bavarian state medal for his social engagement. As his public profile expanded, he served as a guest in talk shows or was invited to give speeches. And he represented himself as an honest businessman as well as a man of character.
"I know that it's stupid, but I pay all of my taxes," he said in a 2005 interview with German tabloid "Bild." Two years ago he told "Brandeins," a business magazine, "Of course I want success - but not at any price. If it's about money, there's got to be a point where you have to be satisfied."
Hoeness had also called upon Sepp Blatter, head of FIFA, to do more against corruption in the football organization.
That's why people are even more disappointed now, explained Dagmar Freitag. When she heard allegations last week that Hoeness had dodged taxes of up to several million euros, she and many others said they would hardly have expected Hoeness capable of such deeds.
Precisely because Hoeness was so popular with politicians, his tax dodger past is now putting many in the tricky position of being forced to distance themselves from him. The case offers much fodder for Germany's opposition parties to use during the upcoming election campaign, including in ongoing debates about how to deal with tax fraud.
Hoeness said in an interview with the magazine "Focus" that he had initially expected to settle the matter through a planned tax agreement between Germany and Switzerland, supported by Merkel's conservatives. However, that deal was blocked by opposition parties. The tax agreement would have made it possible to pay taxes retroactively on money kept in Switzerland, meaning tax dodgers could have gotten away without fines and even without their names becoming known. For the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens, this was not acceptable. As they hold a majority in Germany's upper house, they were in a position to block the bill.
No 'trivial offense'
Many opposition politicians now accuse the government of having tried to protect tax avoiders. The government, in turn, decries this as election-year maneuvering. Conservative parliamentarian Gerda Hasselfeldt told German public television that tax fraud was no trivial offense, but that it was a pretty poor performance "if the Social Democrat opposition can't think of anything better for their attacks on the government than the personal failings of one individual."
The government defended the failed tax agreement plan by saying the deal would have led many more tax evaders to pay their taxes compared with attempts to hunt down just a few individuals. The opposition disagrees. Social Democrat Dagmar Freitag is adamant that tax dodgers not be let off the hook in any way. Had the deal gone through, Uli Hoeness would have been able to maintain his positive public image while his tax crimes would have been kept secret.
"But someone who has cheated his country for money must not remain a role model," Freitag argued.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservative Christian Democrats face a particular blow to their image. Merkel enjoyed being seen with Hoeness. Most recently, she met with him at a 2012 Bundesliga match day aimed at promoting integration. Hoeness and Bayern had been supporters of the event. Now, the conservatives have to be careful how they'll deal with one of their most prominent fans. The soccer boss had always been very outspoken about his support of Merkel's conservatives.
The Turkish premier's phone calls keep appearing on the Internet. Now Erdogan has announced that he intends to block the Internet platforms YouTube and Facebook. A restriction of free speech - but an ineffective one.
Bayern may have sprinted away from the pack in the race for the Bundesliga title, but a gutsy Wolfsburg made them stumble - for an hour at least. Then Munich showed just how deep their bench is.
Armed soldiers are in control in Crimea. Politicians and legal experts have accused Russia of breaking international law. Moscow insists that it has not contravened any agreements, but its arguments do not stand up.