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Becker given suspended jail term

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MUNICH, Germany -- German tennis star Boris Becker has been given a two-year suspended sentence on tax evasion charges at the end of a two-day trial.

German prosecutors had asked the court to jail Becker after the former tennis great confessed he had made a mistake by failing to pay $3 million in taxes during his career.

But the court decided to impose a two-year probation order for tax evasion and a fine of 300,000 euros ($300,000).

The sentence, which was greeted by applause in the courtroom, came on Thursday at the opening of the second day of a trial at the Munich state court.

Earlier, Becker, who had been accused of avoiding 1.7 million euros ($1.7 million) in taxes, had admitted that he kept a residence in Germany 10 years ago while claiming to reside in the tax haven of Monaco.

Prosecutor Matthias Musiol had asked the court to impose a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence, arguing that Becker had deliberately given false information to save money, and had showed no regret.

But 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."

'Tennis and girls'

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.

He said: "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 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 said the investigation, which included several raids on his homes, was one reason he decided to retire from tennis in 1999, saying that it upset friends and family.

The sentence added to Becker's well-publicised catalogue of woes since he quit the game. (Profile)

Becker has undergone a public and messy divorce from his wife Barbara, fathered a child out of wedlock with a Russian model and seen a string of businesses fail.

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.

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