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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
Becker avoids jail for tax evasion
Boris Becker in the Munich court room
The judge denied rumours of a sentencing deal
Boris Becker has been sentenced to two years' probation by a Munich court for failing to pay millions of euros in German taxes.

The suspended sentence fell short of the prosecution's demands that the former tennis champion be given a three-and-a-half year jail sentence.

After the sentencing, Mr Becker said in a statement: "This was my most important victory. I am happy and relieved that this chapter is finally over.

"I am a free man, that is the most important thing."


This was a last-minute confession - it is not enough

Prosecutor Matthias Musiol

Mr Becker had admitted making a mistake and has paid 3m euros in back taxes and interest.

"Putting Becker in jail would be senseless and unfathomable," his defence lawyer Klaus Volk had argued.

But the prosecution said Mr Becker had waited too long to make his confession.

"After seven years of denial he admitted his crime at the start of the trial and paid the back taxes," said prosecutor Matthias Musiol.

"This was a last-minute confession. It is not enough."

The case revolved around the prosecution's allegation that Mr Becker had maintained a residence in Munich while claiming to live in the tax haven of Monaco.

Judge Huberta Knoeriger had denied rumours of a deal to give Mr Becker leniency.

Psychological burden

The three-times Wimbledon winner admitted making a mistake in failing to declare a residency in Germany to tax officials but denied deliberately cheating paying taxes.

Becker winning Wimbledon in 1985
Becker burst on to the world stage in 1985
He was accused of failing to pay 1.7m euros ($1.7m) in tax between 1991 and 1993.

Mr Becker told the court in Munich that the 10-year investigation had been "extremely" brutal and that he felt "great fear" of the investigators.

"I couldn't live like that any more, much less play tennis," he said.

"Tennis is a psychological sport. I quit the game then, because I couldn't continue like that."

Mr Becker retired from professional tennis in 1999.

Contrite

He admitted keeping an apartment in Munich while listing his place of residence as Monaco.


I accept that I am responsible for a mistake that I made 10 years ago

Boris Becker

He said he could not be accused of criminal scheming as the apartment - his sister's loft - was basic and he stayed there only occasionally.

Mr Becker said he "barely" understood Germany's tax laws and said he ignored expert advice that retaining the apartment could get him into trouble.

He said he was aware of the risk he was taking at the time and knew he would be punished.

"I accept that I am responsible for a mistake that I made 10 years ago and I know that I have to pay for that," he told the court.

In a statement issued later, he added: "This tax issue hasn't let me sleep soundly since the first search of my home.

"It is telling that I was not able to win a tournament after that. I later ended my career."

Celebrity status

Boris Becker is one of Germany's biggest sporting heroes, winning six grand-slam tennis titles.

He burst on to the scene in 1985, winning his first title on the south London grass courts as an unseeded teenager.

He went on to win 49 singles titles and was briefly ranked world number one in 1991.

Since retiring from professional tennis, he has admitted to fathering a child by a Russian model and he later divorced his wife.

As a result, his fortune, estimated at 150m euros ($146.5m) during his career, has melted away on child support and divorce payments.

He has now sold his villa in Munich and lives in a hotel.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rob Broomby
"The fall from grace is complete"
See also:

23 Oct 02 | Tennis
13 Jul 02 | Europe
14 Jul 02 | Media reports
15 Jan 01 | Europe
07 Feb 01 | Europe
09 Jan 01 | Europe
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