Berlin: German football legend Uli Hoeness said on Friday he won't appeal a tax fraud jail sentence and resigned from his posts as president and board chairman of powerhouse club Bayern Munich.
"Tax evasion was the mistake of my life," the fallen football idol, who is set to start his prison term in coming weeks, said in a personal statement. "I will face the consequences of this error."
A Munich court had Thursday sentenced Hoeness, 62, to three and a half years in jail for major tax fraud in a trial that captivated football-obsessed Germany.
Hoeness admitted to hiding his wealth in secret Swiss bank accounts while obsessively "gambling" on stock and currency markets for years.
The court found he had cheated the state out of 28.5 million euros ($39.5 million) and that his attempt to come clean early last year in return for immunity from prosecution was too little too late.
Hoeness said in his statement that "after discussions with my family, I have decided to accept the judgement of the District Court of Munich regarding my tax matter.
"I have instructed my lawyers not to appeal. This corresponds to my understanding of decency, conduct and personal responsibility.
"In addition, I resign with immediate effect from the offices of president of Bayern Munich and chairman of the supervisory board of Bayern Munich. I want to avert harm to my club."
Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her "high respect" for Hoeness' decision to accept the judgement, speaking during a meeting of business leaders in Munich.
Hoeness thanked his friends and supporters at the club, saying: "Bayern Munich is my life's work and always will be. I will stay committed to this great club and its people as long as I live."
'Tax evasion a common crime'
Hoeness was allowed to walk out of the courtroom on Thursday after his lawyer had initially announced plans for an appeal.
He is now expected to start his jail term within a few weeks, Munich court spokeswoman Andrea Titz said.
The prosecution has said it will consider next week whether to appeal the sentence, having pleaded for a longer term of five and a half years.
The champion club and its top sponsors and shareholders -- including Audi, Adidas, VW, Allianz and Deutsche Telekom -- had supported Hoeness since the tax scandal broke a year ago and remained silent on the day of the verdict.
On Friday the club thanked Hoeness for "his leadership qualities, his personal dedication and his outstanding lifetime achievement" in the service of Bayern Munich.
"He is substantially responsible for making the FC Bayern Munich one of the world's most successful and attractive clubs in sporting and economic terms," said Adidas chairman Herbert Hainer, who takes over as interim board chairman.
"For that he deserves our gratitude," added Hainer. The media response has been far harsher for the former star player and club manager, who was a hero to many young fans and seen as a moral authority as a conservative commentator on TV talk shows.
Top-selling daily Bild wrote that "robbing the state of 28.5 million euros is a serious crime and even Hoeness cannot hope to buy his way out of this, even if he regrets his actions.
"As hard as it is for him and his family, the judge had to send out a clear message to boost taxpayers' morale."
The Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung said in a commentary that the public no longer viewed tax evasion as a common and trivial offence but as an assault on society as a whole.
"Tax evasion is a common crime, once considered the sole preserve of the well-heeled," the daily said.
"What is new is the way the public reacts to people like Hoeness. Amid ongoing debates about unemployment benefits and minimum wages, a zero tolerance approach now seems to apply to the wealthy who cheat the state."