Steffi Graf’s father sentenced to prison in tax evasion case
MANNHEIM, Germany (AP) _ The father of tennis champion Steffi Graf was convicted today of evading taxes on her winnings and sentenced to almost four years in prison.
Chief Judge Joachim Plass said Steffi Graf ``played no active part″ in the tax evasion and recommended that the part of the investigation relating to her be dropped.
``Peter Graf alone bears most of the responsibility,″ the judge said.
Steffi Graf, 27, never attended the 4 1/2-month trial. She was in Australia recovering from heat stroke and an infected toe suffered at the Australian Open when the verdict was announced in Mannheim High State Court. She later got on a plane bound for Tokyo to participate in another tournament.
Peter Graf will remain free on bail pending appeal, as will the former family tax adviser, Joachim Eckardt, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison for attempted tax evasion and being an accessory.
Eckardt was an important link in the chain, and not just an accomplice, the judge said, adding that Peter Graf picked him as an adviser because of his non-meddling style.
Both the prosecution, which had asked for much longer sentences for both men, and the defense have a week to appeal the ruling.
Peter Graf was charged with failing to pay nearly $12 million in taxes on almost $26 million of his daughter’s earnings between 1989 and 1993.
The 58-year-old managed his daughter’s career during her rise to the No. 1 ranking in women’s tennis, and he handled the earnings from her 20 Grand Slam titles.
Chief prosecutor Hubert Jobski had accused him of masterminding a ``web of lies planned over a long time″ to dupe tax authorities.
Since his arrest on Aug. 2, 1995, Peter Graf has paid back the entire $12 million in back taxes.
The defense asked for a suspended sentence and fine, portraying their client as a ``helpless, lost man, left out in the cold″ by tax advisers and sponsors.
Graf didn’t deny that he was using mail-box companies in the Netherlands, Liechtenstein and the Netherlands Antilles as early as 1987. But he said tax officials had promised him favorable treatment because Steffi Graf had decided to stay in high-tax Germany, unlike many other sports stars. Tax officials deny such an arrangement.
Graf spent 15 months in jail before he was released Nov. 15 on $3 million bail. That time will count toward his sentence of three years, nine months.
Steffi Graf has not been charged, though investigators continue a probe into whether she knew of her father’s tax evasion schemes. Her father has denied she had any involvement.