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Prosectors demand jail for Becker

Becker in court
Becker's claims were "simply not believable" prosecutors said

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MUNICH, Germany -- German prosecutors have asked a court to jail Boris Becker for tax evasion after the former tennis great confessed he had made a mistake by failing to pay $3 million in taxes during his career.

State prosecutor Matthias Musiol said the three-time Wimbledon champion had intentionally filed false returns between 1991 and 1993.

Becker is accused of having failed to pay millions of euros in taxes from 1991 to 1993, when he says he lived in the tax haven of Monaco. Investigators say his permanent residence at the time was in Munich.

Musiol said Becker should be sentenced for three years and six months in prison for the offence. The 34-year-old former Wimbledon champion appeared stunned by the prosecution's closing arguments and demand for jail time.

He paid $3 million last week to cover the back taxes and interest due, and had been hoping his confession would lead to at most a suspended sentence.

Becker's face turned pale and he brushed past reporters as he left the court without comment, Reuters reported. "I thought I was an honest guy," he said earlier.

Judge Huberta Knoeringer said the trial of one of the country's biggest post-war heroes that began on Wednesday would continue on Thursday.

"The defendant's claims are simply not believable," said Musiol in his closing arguments. "He acted in a premeditated fashion to evade taxes, conceal his residence in Germany, as well as hinder investigations over the last 10 years."

Musiol said even though Becker had admitted his error at the start of the trial and paid the back taxes, the German tennis hero broke the law and deserved to go to jail.

"After seven years of denial, he admitted his crime at the start of the trial and paid the back taxes," Musiol said. "This was a last-minute confession. It is not enough."

The prosecutor said Becker had evaded taxes worth millions of dollars therefore was guilty of severe tax evasion. He said the late confession and payment were mitigating factors and that prosecutors would not seek the full five-year sentence.

Jail 'senseless'

Becker's lawyers argued that no jail time was warranted since Becker had paid $22 million in German taxes since moving his residence back to Germany from Monaco in 1994. He had also paid another $3 million in tax back taxes for 1991 to 1993.

"Should Boris Becker end in up jail next to a rapist?" asked defence lawyer Klaus Volk. "Putting Becker in jail would be senseless and unfathomable. We urge the judge not to make a verdict that would rule out probation."

Becker could end up in prison if judges convict him and hand him a sentence of more than two years. With sentences of up to two years, the court can let the defendant go free on probation.

Becker argued he had moved his residence to Monte Carlo in 1984 at the age of 16, when his tennis career began, in order to train with other professional players.

"The only thing I had on my mind was tennis, and sometimes girls," Becker said. "My life was all about tennis. My office was the whole world. The word home didn't really exist."

He later moved to Munich because he said he felt "more comfortable" in Germany even though he knew taxes were higher. "I wanted to enjoy the quality of life in Germany again and start a family here," he said.

Tax 'mystery'

The trial started with Becker openly admitting wrongdoing. "I admit that I made a mistake 10 years ago and I know that I will have to pay the consequences for that," he said.

"I cannot be accused of hiding money or any other criminal acts. I stayed at times in a spartan flat in Munich between the autumn of 1991 and 1993 that had just a bed and a couch but didn't even have a refrigerator."

He said that Germany's complex tax law was still a mystery to him. Becker said the court case had been partially responsible for his decision not to return to the game. He said: "Tennis is a psychological sport, you have to keep a clear head. That is why I stopped playing."

Becker amassed $25 million in prize money during a career spanning more than 15 years and he also made many millions from endorsements and other deals.

The star attracted adverse publicity when he divorced his wife of seven years, the German-American Barbara Feltus. He later agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement.

He then admitted fathering a baby girl in London with Russian model Angela Ermakova.

A year ago in London Becker -- reported then by the UK Press Association to be worth $90 million -- agreed a "generous" financial settlement towards the upbringing of the baby.

The tax case echoes the woes of Germany's other tennis darling, Steffi Graf, whose father Peter spent nearly two years in jail after being convicted in 1997 of evading $7 million in tax on his daughter's earnings.

Becker said his personal life spun into crisis after his father, Karl Heinz, died in 1999. But in March he said he was finding happiness with a new girlfriend, Iranian-born Patrice Farameh.

Becker burst into the limelight with his first Wimbledon triumph at the age of 17 in 1985, a victory that ushered in a tennis boom in what was then West Germany. He went on to win a total of six grand slam titles, including two Australian Open tournaments and one U.S. Open.



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