Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona on Tuesday denied he owed millions of euros in unpaid Italian taxes after he was mobbed by media and fans on his return to Naples, where he twice led the local team to league titles.
The tax collection agency says it is owed almost 40 million euros (US$52.3 million) by the former World Cup winner, most of which is interest built up since 1984, when he joined Serie A club SSC Napoli.
“I am innocent,” Maradona told a news conference in the southern Italian city. “I want to believe in the Italian justice system — I don’t owe them a lira.”
He said he wanted to clear his name so he could return to Italy, a nation he loves, without being chased for the debts.
The Italian authorities have long pursued him, seizing diamond earrings when he visited a weight-loss clinic in northern Italy in 2009 and stripping him of two watches when he went to Naples for a benefit match in 2006.
“I wanted to tell you all that I can feel again the air of Naples in all of my body,” Maradona said. “I have wanted to come to Naples for a long time, but there was something that wouldn’t permit me and I can’t understand why.”
Maradona, regarded by many as one of the greatest players of all time, is still Napoli’s top scorer and is venerated like a saint in the city for leading the club to their only Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990.
The 52-year-old, who also led Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup, was mobbed by photographers as he arrived for the conference where Napoli fans chanted his name.