Uli Hoeness and the Swiss bankers

The Bavarian bandwagon shows absolutely no signs of slowing down on the pitch with the seemingly all-conquering record German champions Bayern Munich remaining on course for a potential treble-winning season (German League, German Cup and Champions League). However, perhaps Munich's momentum will be stalled somewhat by the shock news that President Uli Hoeness is under investigation for tax fraud.

Hoeness, a World Cup winner with Germany in 1974, made a voluntary declaration to the tax authorities in January, admitting to filing amended tax returns and revealing a Swiss bank account, where, according to several sources, he has allegedly 'parked' millions of Euros. Public prosecutors in Munich are now looking into a possible case of tax avoidance.

A controversial and often outspoken figure in the German sporting world, Hoeness is very much the heart and soul of the Bavarian club. The 61-year-old has overseen Bayern's transformation into a world super power on the footballing stage. Hoeness was a successful player with the record German champions until his career was curtailed by injury in 1979. He then relaunched himself as the club's general manager and has played a major role in transforming Bayern into a global brand ever since. Now, as club president, he remains a powerful voice and figurehead for Bayern. Away from football, Hoeness, a butcher's son, co-owns a Nuremberg-based Bratwurst factory. HoWe Wurstwaren KG make their millions supplying outlets such as Aldi and McDonald's.

"I submitted an amended return to the tax authorities via my financial advisor in January 2013," Hoeness told Focus, adding that this was in relation "to an account of mine in Switzerland."

Munich's Senior Public Prosecutor, Ken Heidenreich, told Focus that his office was currently investigating Hoeness's amended declaration. Hoeness added that he had "originally" planned to solve the issue of his Swiss bank account in line with any bilateral deal between Germany and Switzerland, "which then failed to come into operation in December 2012, as we know."

Under this deal, people with untaxed assets in Switzerland, such as Hoeness, would have been legally in the clear after making an anonymous one-off payment. This deal, backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government and even ratified in Switzerland, was blown out of the water by Germany's opposition - the Social Democrats, Greens and Left Party in Germany's upper house of parliament - where they currently hold a majority controlling influence.

The major sticking point for the left-wing opposition parties to any potential deal was the promise of continued anonymity for those using the bilateral pact to pay German tax on their assets in Switzerland. Something which, of course, it looks like Hoeness was looking to take advantage of.

It is also somewhat ironic that Hoeness, who has frequently lectured other clubs on their prudent housekeeping, now finds his own finances under intense scrutiny. Meanwhile, the high-profile case is threatening to escalate into a political football.

SPD (Social Democratic Party) leader Sigmar Gabriel delivered a verbal tirade on ZDF television. "Tax officials tell us that in Bavaria certain companies are only checked every forty years or so. The CSU (Christian Democratic Party) has been the ruling party in Bavaria for more than 50 years and has created an atmosphere of 'blue and white corruption' (colour of Bavarian flag) that has to be eradicated. It's not surprising that CSU leader Horst Seehofer doesn't want to tackle tax evasion and explains why the CDU/CSU fought so vehemently for this tax settlement with the Swiss."

Sylvia Schenk, Transparency International's sports spokeswoman, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) that Hoeness's credibility and reputation were very much on the line. "Hoeness's credibility has been dramatically tarnished. It will definitely be very hard for him to recover from this," commented Schenk.

Hoeness has often been at loggerheads with football's governing bodies and their leaders. He famously criticised FIFA president Sepp Blatter's leadership, saying that he is not able to run FIFA and that if he (Hoeness) led Bayern like Blatter did FIFA, then Bayern would have gone out of business a long time ago.

"If he attacks Mr. Blatter and suggests that he cleans up his mess at FIFA, but at the same time he's evading German taxes, it amounts to throwing stones in glass houses," added Schenk.

Only last week he criticised Europe's governing body UEFA for failing to "forcefully" implement its new Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules. To date, only Spanish minnows Malaga face a ban from UEFA competitions due to irregularities. Referring to big-spending clubs like Paris St. Germain, AC Milan and Manchester City, he questioned how UEFA President Michel Platini would implement any sanctions, "especially with his friends in Paris, Milan, and England at Manchester City," he added.

News that Hoeness is embroiled in tax issues is a shock to many as he has always been considered a compassionate, socially responsible person. He has helped out many Bayern players in times of need, including Gerd Müller, Mehmet Scholl, Franck Ribéry and recently Breno. He has also helped bail out other financially stricken German football clubs, like St. Pauli, Hertha BSC, Borussia Dortmund, Hansa Rostock and local rivals 1860 München.

Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer was informed "some time ago" about the voluntary declaration and subsequent investigations and has assured that Hoeness will be treated just like any other individual.


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