Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona has won his right to return to Italy after being cleared of owing nearly 40 million euros (US$55 million) in taxes, reports said yesterday.
Maradona, the World Cup winner who helped Napoli to their only two league titles in Serie A in 1987 and 1990, had been banned from setting foot in Italy because of an alleged unpaid tax bill of 37.2 million euros.
The former player’s lawyer, Angelo Pisani, yesterday said his client had been cleared, two years after the authorities relaunched the case, which dates back to 2005.
“Maradona has finally been liberated from this fiscal nightmare and the accusations he faced,” the lawyer, Pisani, told the Italian news agency ANSA.
An Italian court in 2005 ordered Maradona to pay 37.2 million euros, 23.5 million of which was interest, after being accused of tax evasion. The case was relaunched in 2011 due to a series of procedural errors.
According to ANSA, the court re-investigating the case annulled the proceedings against Napoli and its former employees — notably Maradona, but also Brazilians Careca and Amemao.
Pisani said yesterday that the Argentine, one of the greatest, but also most controversial figures in soccer, would now attempt to win nearly 40 million euros in damages for defamation.
The news will come as welcome relief for a player who has courted controversy throughout his career, not least because of his disputed first goal in Argentina’s 2-1 victory over England in the 1986 World Cup that he claimed was the “Hand of God.”
In 1987, the diminutive attacking midfielder led Napoli to the Serie A title, repeating the feat in 1990. In 259 appearances with Napoli between 1984 and 1991, Maradona scored 115 goals for the Partenopei.
At the tail end of his spell with Napoli, where he is reported to have mixed with local mafia bosses, Maradona was handed a 15-month ban after testing positive for cocaine.
Shortly after completing that ban, he was sent home from the 1994 World Cup in the US after testing positive for the banned stimulant ephedrine.
He retired from the game in 1997 after spells with Sevilla in Spain and Newell’s Old Boys and Boca Juniors in Argentina.
After ballooning in weight, Maradona in 2005 underwent treatment to slim down and overcome his addiction to cocaine.
He went on to a coaching career which has been largely mediocre, coaching the Argentinian national side (2008-2010) and United Arab Emirates club Al-Wasl.