Opinion: Hoeness loses public′s trust | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 13.03.2014
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Opinion: Hoeness loses public's trust

Three and a half years in prison for FC Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness: a harsh but fair sentence, says DW's Volker Wagener. The verdict has left many in Germany speechless.

The lowest point in Uli Hoeness' life came late, unexpectedly and with a sense of finality. Not even time will heal these wounds. His famous missed penalty kick, which cost Germany the European Championship title in 1976, did not break him. Neither did the end of his active sports career due to injury when he was in his twenties. He even survived a plane crash.

Hoeness wasn't taken down by nerves, bad health or fate. His ultimate downfall was megalomania - and a typical vice in this time of online stock speculation. His fouls were committed in the tax penalty box and the judge showed him the red card: three and a half years in jail.

Starting today, with this verdict, Hoeness is not the all-powerful FC Bayern Munich king with an altruistic streak. From far away, he still resembles a giant - but he's one who gets smaller and smaller the closer you look.

Unsuccessful tax evasion confession

From a legal perspective, the matter is clear. The Munich district court rejected Hoeness' voluntary tax disclosure, which was made shortly before an investigation into his tax affairs began. It was deemed incomplete and lodged too late.

The verdict highlights a general legal trend in Germany: tax evasion is severely punished. And the job is increasingly easier for investigators, thanks to stolen banking data eagerly purchased by German authorities. Nobody can still hope to maintain cover on any shady tax business. There is even a trend among law firms to have lawyers who specialize in defending tax evaders.

Munich's good guy

Uli Hoeness and his lawyer didn't reach the emergency exit in time. But behind this tax evasion drama lies the question why someone like in Hoeness succumbed to temptation in the first place. After all, he was seen as a type of modern Robin Hood from Bavaria. At Munich's Allianz Arena, he charged inflated rates to spectators in the VIP lounges so diehard fans could afford cheaper tickets to watch from the terraces. When he wanted to improve the landscaping on the FC Bayern Munich training grounds, he paid the 20,000 euros ($27,800) it cost out of his own pocket.

Then there were also his numerous donations to various charities. And he even helped out the competition: when the Borussia Dortmund was on the brink of insolvency, the rival club was helped out by a prompt credit from Bayern Munich. That's how Uli was: not easy to deal with, but always generous.

A believer in good business

On top of all that, he was a skilled businessman. As manager his legendary motto was that FC Bayern Munich only dealt with the bank's deposit department - never the loan department. His football club is a robust business and a counter-model to the heavily indebted clubs in England, Spain and Italy run by various oligarchs, sheiks and building tycoons. Hoeness' made a substantial contribution to the Bayern Munich concept.

Aside from these managerial endeavors on the pitch, Hoeness, the son of a butcher, also founded an unusually successful sausage-making business. His motto has always been "no debts, good quality has to pay." He was a textbook example of the perfect German mid-size entrepreneur.

Mental weakness as downfall

All this doesn't match the image of Uli the stock exchange junkie. There's no question that Hoeness must have at some point thrown the principles of honesty overboard, surrendering to the addictive sport of online stock and currency trading. But why? He had achieved everything - as soccer player, manager and businessman - with success and affirmation all the way. He was a lot of things, but dumb was never one of them. His big weakness, now a legal matter, is a case for the psychologist to deal with.

He cannot keep his position as chairman of the Bayern Munich supervisory board - the club's major shareholders will see to that. He could have perhaps still kept his post as president of Bayern Munich, but he can't do that from a prison cell.

Uli Hoeness behind bars: it's more than just a verdict against a tax evader - it's an earthquake for the German television audience at home. He was the unofficial spokesperson for this most emotional, crowd-moving sector: soccer!

There will be some schadenfreude directed at Hoeness - he needs to endure it somehow. He lied, deceived and in the end begged for mercy. All for nothing! This game has seen Hoeness suffer a spectacular defeat. Only an appeal can save him now.

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