Explained: How did tennis legend Boris Becker land in jail?

Boris Becker is one of the biggest names in tennis – known for his flamboyant style of play on the court and his high-flying life off it. With six Grand Slam singles titles (three at Wimbledon, two at the Australian Open and one at the US Open), and later coaching Novak Djokovic to six major titles, his word and his opinion were highly respected.

But according to his lawyer Jonathan Laidlaw QC, Becker now finds himself with a ‘ragged reputation’ after being imprisoned for two and a half years for flouting the terms of his bankruptcy in 2017 and hiding assets and loans worth millions to avoid paying off his debts.

What was Boris Becker convicted of?

Southwark Crown Court in London found the former world number one guilty of four counts of insolvency law – removal of property, two counts of non-disclosure of estate and concealment of debts. Becker was discovered to have transferred hundreds of thousands of pounds after his bankruptcy from his business account to other accounts, including those of his ex-wife Barbara and ex-wife Sharlely Becker. The 54-year-old German was also found guilty of failing to declare property in Germany and concealing an €825,000 bank loan and shares in a technology company.

Novak Djokovic chats with his coach Boris Becker ahead of Wimbledon in 2016. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

Why was Boris Becker declared bankrupt?

Becker filed for bankruptcy in a London court in June 2017. At the time, he owed a private banking firm, Arbuthnot Latham & Co, what he The Guardian estimated at around £3.3 million. He reportedly missed the repayment deadline by more than two years in 2017 and asked the bank to delay filing a lawsuit against him for 28 days. In the meantime, he hoped to sell his property in Mallorca to pay off some of the debt. However, the bank’s registrar reportedly refused, stating that “(one) feels like a man with his head in the sand”.

Will Boris Becker be in prison?

Judge Deborah Taylor, who handed down the sentence, said Becker would serve half the sentence.

Did Becker try to raise funds?

Yes. He held an auction which started in June 2018. The idea was to raise money to pay off the debt by selling memorabilia from his playing days, including trophies and kits. In all, he had 82 items for sale. The most expensive purchase was his 1989 US Open trophy, which he won by beating Ivan Lendl in the final. It sold in July 2019 for £150,250. He also managed to sell a replica of a Davis Cup trophy he won, for £52,100.

In total, the auction raised over £680,000.

Boris Becker after beating Ivan Lendl to win Wimbledon on July 6, 1986. (AP Photo/Robert Dear)

How far did Boris Becker go to avoid legal punishment?

The most eye-catching thing the Germans did was claim diplomatic immunity. In April 2018, Becker claimed to have been appointed Sport and Culture Attaché to the European Union by the Central African Republic (CAR) – a landlocked country in Central Africa.

Under the rules established by the 1961 Vienna Convention, international diplomats are immune from prosecution in a host country – which includes criminal and civil suits. However, Cherubin Moroubama, chief of staff at the Central African Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said France Media Agency (AFP): “The diplomatic passport that (Becker) has is a fake.”

He further explained that the serial number on the passport Becker had was from a lot stolen in 2014. Furthermore, Moroubama claimed that the position the German claimed to have from the CAR ‘does not exist’. Curiously, there have been a host of individuals who invoked CAR’s diplomatic immunity to avoid prosecution in Europe, including a former adviser to Muammar Gaddafi.

Boris Becker waits in a Munich courtroom Thursday, October 24, 2002. (AP Photo/Jan Pitman, File)

Did Boris Becker experience regular financial difficulties?

Since retiring in 1999, the German has struggled to manage his finances, be it due to child support or failing businesses. During his playing days, he won $25,080,956 in prize money according to his ATP profile, and it was estimated that his total wealth could have exceeded $130 million through endorsement deals.

In 2001, however, the German government charged him with tax evasion estimated at between £3.2 million and £10 million. At the time, Becker claimed he was living at home in Monaco, a tax haven. However, he was reportedly seen often at his apartment in Munich, leading investigators to believe that he had indeed been staying in Germany and was therefore subject to German tax laws.

What did the court observe in the case?

Judge Taylor said the former tennis player showed no remorse or guilt for his actions.

Referring to her previous conviction for tax evasion in Germany, she told Becker: “You did not take into account the warning given to you and the chance given to you by the suspended sentence and that is a significant aggravating factor… You have… sought to distance yourself from your breach and bankruptcy. Although I accept your humiliation as part of the process, there was no humility.

Prosecutor Rebecca Chalkley said Becker acted “deliberately and dishonestly” and was “always looking to blame others”.

Boris Becker and his wife Lily pose for a photo outside the Taj Mahal in 2012. (AP Photo/Pawan Sharma, File)

What are the repercussions of the verdict on Becker?

Judge Taylor said: “You lost your career, your reputation and all of your assets as a result of your bankruptcy.”

According to Becker’s lawyer, his “fall from grace” left “his reputation in tatters”.

“Boris Becker has literally nothing and there is nothing to show for what has been sport’s most illustrious career and this is correctly characterized as nothing less than a tragedy. These procedures have utterly destroyed his career and ruined any other prospect of earning an income. He will not be able to find work and will have to rely on the charity of others if he is to survive,” his lawyer said.

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