With Paraguay’s capital in lockdown, former Brazil international Ronaldinho is spending his second week under house arrest in an exclusive hotel in Asuncion, where a ballroom has been set up to allow him to keep up his soccer skills as he awaits trial for entering the country under a false passport.
The 40-year-old FIFA World Cup winner and his brother, Roberto, are occupying two US$350 per night suites at the otherwise deserted colonial-style Palmaroga Hotel, just a couple of blocks from the government headquarters.
“Yesterday they brought him a regulation football. We set up a room — about 30m by 15 — for him to be able to practice his juggling skills,” hotel manager Emilio Yegros told reporters.
“He seems like a good sort. He always has a smile, like his brother,” Yegros said. “His face has changed from his first day here. When he arrived he was tense and visibly stressed.”
The former Barcelona star spends his days working out in the hotel gym, practicing his legendary juggling skills with the ball and wandering the echoing halls of the 6,000m2 building, which was refurbished last year.
Ronaldinho and his brother are among 16 suspects in an extensive anti-corruption investigation. Arrested on March 6 for using falsified Paraguayan passports to enter the country from neighboring Brazil, they face up to five years in prison if convicted.
Being held in a police cell for the first 30 days of their detention gave Ronaldinho — his beard grown fuller in that time — and his brother a taste of Paraguayan prison conditions, before a court ordered them released into house arrest at the Palmaroga early this month. Bail was set at US$1.6 million.
That the hotel is owned by the Spain-based Barcelona Group, which has construction projects in Paraguay, is “pure coincidence” and has nothing to do with the star’s former club, Yegros said.
The former player is prevented from receiving visitors in the hotel under protocols against COVID-19 in Paraguay, which officially has 161 infections to date, with eight deaths.
Ronaldinho’s Brazilian lawyer Sergio Queiroz has said that there are no legal grounds for his detention.
“It’s illegal, abusive,” Queiroz said. “They did not know that the documents they had were illegal.”
“Leave Ronaldinho alone,” said former Argentine FIFA World Cup winner Jorge Valdano, who is now a coach in Spain.
“The only place Ronaldinho behaved like a troublemaker was on the pitch,” Valdano told a Madrid newspaper. “One thing is being stupid, as his lawyer called him, and another thing is being a criminal.”
However, public prosecutor Alicia Sapriza feels otherwise.
“They knew,” she told reporters.
What investigators are trying to determine is whether the former star was being used as cover in the plot or whether he willingly lent himself to an alleged money laundering and contraband operation to dispel possible suspicion.
“From the contents of his phone calls that have been examined there was a certain conversation with the brother, Roberto, in which the documents were discussed” before they arrived in Paraguay, Saprizia said.
Although prosecutors believe Roberto bears more responsibility in the case, Sapriza said: “Ronaldinho could not be unaware. He cannot claim to have been acting in good faith.”
Ronaldinho and his brother on March 4 left for Asuncion with their own Brazilian passports, but showed the Paraguayan passports on arrival.
Mobbed on arrival by 2,000 children wearing T-shirts bearing his photograph, he had traveled to Paraguay to open a casino owned by a Brazilian businessman and his agenda included attending an event organized by a children’s charity.
Prosecutors are expected to limit the charges to using documents with “false content” and the pair would likely be released on bail when court activity resumes following the lockdown, judicial sources told reporters.
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