KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS —- Uli Hoeness, the football boss with an apparent Midas touch, confronts today the most important board meeting of even his life.
Hoeness is president of Bayern Munich, favourites and finalists in the UEFA Champions League and record-breaking champions-elect – yet again – of Germany.
Yet the man whose business sense had turned him into a favourite example of German industry for Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a multi-million fine and a jail sentence for tax evasion.
Today Hoeness, 61, must take his place as president of the supervisory board of FC Bayern München AG aware of the credibility chasm which opened up at his feet a fortnight ago with revelations that he is also the nation’s most high-profile tax cheat.
Bayern are a massively successful business with some of Germany’s most respected captains of industry either on the board or controlling the sponsors who pay the club records sums.
As the German financial media has pointed out, the likes of Adidas chairman Herbert Hainer, for example, cannot be expected to sit comfortably on a nine-man board whose president/chairman has let the team down in such a high-profile and illegal manner.
Top of today’s agenda will be Hoeness himself. Clearly he must step down while his lawyers attempt to cut some sort of deal with the tax authorities and public prosecutors.
But the question of timing is everything:
1, should Hoeness step down with permanent effect or temporarily, pending the outcome of negotiations with the taxman?
2, should Hoeness step down, either way, with immediate effect? Or
3, should Hoeness step down only after seeing out the season at the Champions League Final on May 25?
The decisive voices will be those of the chairmen of the club’s major sponsors: Rupert Stadler of Audi, and Hainer of Adidas (both companies own 9.1.pc of the club) plus ‘Timothy’ Höttges of Deutsche Telekom and Martin Winterkorn of Volkswagen.
All of those companies employ the sort of strict compliance rules and regulations which would scare the wits out of FIFA directors, never mind strictly-overseen German football clubs.
All four are reported, in Germany, to want Hoeness to step down as soon as possible though he has been quoted as saying he has no intention of doing so before the trip to Wembley (assuming he is allowed out of the country).
Ready to accept the option of the delayed goodbye are vice-president Karl Hopfner, Bavaria’s former Minister-President Edmund Stoiber, Focus publisher Helmut Markwort and UniCredit chairman Dieter Rampl.
Weekend reports suggested that Hoeness would be willing to accept a multi-million fine and a suspended one-year jail sentence incorporating probation.
Both Hoeness’s lawyers and the tax and judicial authorities have refused to make any formal statements in response to repeated questions.
The genesis of the affair was in 2000 when Hoeness was loaned between €10m and €15m by the then Adidas boss Robert Louis-Dreyfus to invest in the stock market. An account was opened at the Zurich-based Bank Vontobel AG.
The profits were apparently taxed in Switzerland but not as capital gains tax in Germany while a number of amnesties came and went.
Sources close to Hoeness say that he, like other cross-border investors, had planned to capitalise on a new amnesty law. However a draft bill to ratify such a legal loophole was scrapped last autumn after parliamentary opposition from the Greens.
Thus in January Hoeness found himself telling all to the tax authorities.
Versions vary over who took the initiative. Hoeness, in a statement last April 21, said: “I filed a voluntary disclosure about the account to my accountant at the tax office in January 2013. I trust fully in the work of the authorities involved in the case.”
Other reports claim that Hoeness did so only after learning of inquiries by an investigative magazine; still other reports have suggested that it was the taxman who took the initiative.
Those niceties will be largely irrelevant today in Munich.