By Teresa Ambord
Diego Maradona took a chance returning to Italy this month where he was once a well-loved soccer star. When he visited back in 2009, the Italian tax authorities promptly confiscated two Rolex watches and a pair of earrings, valued at about $20,700 in US currency. That was a tiny down payment against the delinquent tax bill he owes to Italy of more than $53.4 million. He continues to fight to clear his name, even telling people the authorities dropped the claim against him. But according to the tax agency, the charges stand.
A native of Argentina, fifty-two-year-old Maradona played on the Italian team Napoli from 1984–1992.That's when he racked up a huge tax debt. He only returned to Italy to promote a DVD series about his life and to watch his old team play. No sooner had he checked into his Milan hotel than there was a knock on the door. A representative from Equitalia – Italy's tax collection agency – served him with papers and acknowledged to reporters that he signed them, though when speaking to reporters Maradona denies owing the debt.
"I'm not a tax evader and I have no problems telling that to Equitalia [tax collectors]", he told Rai television.
Maradona sees himself as something of a hero, telling reporters he's still stopped by fans everywhere who praise him for his soccer years. Yet, he says, the Italian authorities continue to hound him.
"They've already taken my earrings and watches. But I don't have any on me today. They've even looked for sponsors who will pay my debt to get some publicity, but I've refused because I am not a tax evader.
"I want the truth. The only people getting any publicity out of this are Equitalia, because of me, but they have another job to do and Maradona is not that job. I'm not hiding."
Maradona admits he would someday like to manage his former team when the current manager leaves, which may explain why he dares return to Italy in spite of what he considers unfair treatment.