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Culture

Boris Becker Fouls Out in Court

A German regional court in Munich on Thursday convicted former tennis star Boris Becker of tax evasion. The German sports legend received a two-year suspended sentence and a heavy fine.

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"A very difficult phase in my life is now over."

With words of relief, Germany’s biggest tennis star left a court room in Munich on Thursday after receiving a two-year suspended sentence and a 300,000 euro ($292, 000) fine for failing to pay more than one million euro in taxes to the German state between 1991 and 1993.

"I’m free – that’s the most important thing," Becker said upon being questioned by a large group of reporters. "I’m so happy this difficult and problem-laden time in my life is finally over."

Celebrity court case

Becker’s match against the German tax authorities reached a head this week when the 34-year-old celebrity appeared in front of Munich’s regional court and admitted he had made "mistakes" in his past financial dealings. Becker denied that he had deliberately tried to cheat the system. "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 at the start of the trial on Wednesday.

Becker’s lawyers also announced that a week prior to his court date, Becker had paid the state three million euro in back taxes, far exceeding the amount he owed the state. It was an attempt to settle the affair without going all the way to court.

German state prosecutors, however, remained adamant about penalizing the three-time Wimbledon winner, who since retiring from his professional tennis career three years ago has made millions with television commercials. State prosecutor Matthias Musiol insisted on a sentence of three years and six months in jail, saying that Becker’s outstanding tax bill – estimated at some 1.7 million euro – and the length of time he avoided authorities required a stiff sentencing.

Question of residence

The court case focused primarily on the question of where the tennis star lived between 1991 and 1993, the period for which he owed taxes. Becker claimed that he resided permanently in the tax haven of Monaco, and therefore was exempt from paying German taxes. But German tax authorities said Becker was living at least part-time in the southern German city of Munich.

"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 told the court. "I was permanently on the road... The world ‘home’ didn’t really exist for me."

Weakened sentence

In the end, prosecutors could not convince the court of the weightiness of Becker’s guilt, and the judge passed a considerably lighter sentence than requested. Becker received a two-year suspended sentence, a fine of 300,000 euro, and an additional sum of 200,000 euro payable to charitable causes.

Becker’s lawyers, who had pushed for a suspended sentence as the maximum penalty, said they were "absolutely satisfied" with Thursday’s outcome.

State prosecutor Musiol, however, said he would push for a review of the sentence, saying it was far below what his office had requested. But he added, "I don’t think the court allowed its judgement to be persuaded by the fact that it was a celebrity on trial."

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