The boss of German football giants Bayern Munich, Uli Hoeness, told a high-profile tax trial Monday that he hid millions of euros more than authorities thought but denied being a "social parasite".
Munich: In a surprise twist, defence lawyer Hanns Feigen said that Hoeness cheated the taxman out of 18.5 million euros ($25.5 million) -- vastly more than the 3.5 million euros listed in the prosecution brief.
Vowing he wants to come clean on his fiscal wrong-doing, Hoeness told the Munich court that he stashed away the money in a secret Swiss bank account during years of obsessive stock "gambling".
"I am glad that everything is now transparent and on the table," the 62-year-old former pro player and businessman, who now faces a possible jail term, said on the first day of his trial. "I deeply regret my misbehaviour. I will do everything to ensure that this distressing chapter closes."
The case against Hoeness -- a football legend, well-connected sports functionary and conservative TV talk show regular from the southern state of Bavaria -- has captivated the sport-obsessed nation. When the tax scandal first broke a year ago, it rocked German sports and politics, and even Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced her "disappointment" with the 1970s national player.
"I have evaded taxes," a rueful Hoeness told the packed court. "I am aware that turning myself in to the authorities does not change that. I was hoping to escape criminal charges with a voluntary disclosure."
Prosecutors argue that his self-reporting of a Zurich account in January 2013 contained irregularities and is invalid because authorities already had Hoeness in their crosshairs at the time.
Millions 'gambled' on stocks
The veteran footballer, who also runs a lucrative sausage company, said that during years of stocks trading from 2003 to 2009 that amounted to virtual "gambling", he had lost sight of his gains and losses. He has earlier told German media that he received a 20 million deutschmark (10.2 million euro) loan for trading in his Swiss bank account in 2001 from the late Robert Louis-Dreyfus, then chief of club supplier and shareholder Adidas.
Overall, he told the court, had ended up in the red after his trading years, but he added that he now knew he still has an obligation to pay taxes on the interim winnings he made. But he also stressed that over the years he had donated a total of five million euros for social purposes, telling the court that "I'm not a social parasite".
Hoeness faces a possible jail term if found guilty by the court in the southern city of Munich, which has scheduled a four-day trial with a verdict expected Thursday.
The maximum punishment for major tax fraud under German law is 10 years jail, but shorter terms, which can be suspended, are more commonly handed down. He arrived in court Monday through a back entrance and gave photographers a pained smile at the start of the trial in a courtroom packed with media and other audience members.
Public interest in the case has been intense -- the 49 allocated media spots to cover the trial were filled within 27 seconds, the court said. Hoeness has spent more than four decades with the Bavarian sporting giants -- first as player, helping win then West Germany the 1974 World Cup, then as team manager and, since 2009, as club president.
Despite widespread criticism of Hoeness, his initial offer to resign from Bayern Munich last May was rejected by the supervisory board of the European champions club. Hoeness has stayed on so far as president, amid expressions of loyalty from fans and players, and support from corporate sponsors such as Adidas, Audi, VW and Deutsche Telekom.
"I can only hope that it turns out well for him and the court shows its human side," said honorary club president Franz Beckenbauer on Sky TV on Sunday.