Steffi Graf's father exonerates her as his tax evasion trial opens

 

MR PETER Graf, father and former manager of the world tennis star, Steffi Graf, exonerated his daughter on the first day of his trial for massive tax evasion yesterday.

"I formally declare here that until the tax inspectors' searches carried out in 1995, Steffi was in no way concerned with our financial affairs," Mr Graf (58) told the court in an hour long statement.

Ms Graf's father accepted a large portion of guilt for failing to pay nearly 20 million deutschmarks (£8.29 million) tax on DM42 million of her earnings between 1989 and 1993.

He said he had been "overtaken by events" which he blamed on his heavy drinking. He also criticised the German inland revenue authorities, which have been accused of complicity.

"The tax officials seriously misled me, at least from 1991 onwards," said Mr Graf, who has been detained on remand for the past 13 months.

Mr Graf admitted blame, which he extended to his coaccused, Mr Joachim Eckard (49), the family tax adviser.

"We are both responsible for our undoing. Without me, he wouldn't be here. Without him and other advisers, it would never have gone so far," he said.

He said he did not intend speaking out any more on his private life save behind closed doors.

"I want to spare the remainder of my private life," said Mr Graf, whose personal life has been the subject of many newspaper articles.

"In 1993, I was physically ruined," he said, referring to his heavy drinking, which his lawyers intend to make a plank of their defence.

"Family has always been the most important thing in my life. It's there that I am the most vulnerable," he said.

He claimed he had been scared of seeing his daughter's earnings "eaten up" by the tax man.

From 1982 to the end of 1995 Ms Graf is estimated to have grossed more than DM 150 million (over £62.25 million). Much of this, it now appears, was siphoned off into foreign bank accounts.

Mr Graf, who entered court wearing a light coloured suit, white shirt and dark tie, pursued by a pack of photographers and cameramen, faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years if convicted.

Thirty eight witnesses are scheduled to testify in the trial, which could last to the end of the year, with hearings twice a week.

The 27 year old tennis star has always maintained she left her financial affairs up to her father, and the prosecution is not calling her as a witness.

Mr Eckardt's lawyers had argued that a defence was impossible without her testimony, but Ms Graf has invoked her right not to testify because of her family relationship with the accused.

Throughout the affair the reputation of Ms Graft darling of the German public, has remained intact.

She says she has had a problem concentrating on her game but on Wednesday she qualified for the US Open semi finals in New York to stay on course for her third Grand Slam title this year.