Movie star Wesley Snipes has been released on bail of $1m (£511,350) and told he can return to Africa to complete a film project - as long as he is back in the US later next month to face charges of tax fraud. If convicted he could face up to 16 years in jail.
The 44-year-old star of action films such as Blade appeared in a Florida court last week, having flown in from Namibia where he has been working on a zombie horror movie. He was formally charged, pleaded not guilty and was then told he could return to Africa. The magistrate, Gary Jones, told him he must be back in court by 10 January.
"I look forward to clearing my name and resolving this issue post-haste," Snipes told a press conference at Orlando airport, where he had arrived by private jet. "Thank you to all my fans, thank you for all the support from my family, and to my foes, thank you very much as well."
Snipes, wearing blue-tinted glasses and a dark suit, then returned to Africa to continue work on his film, Gallow Walker. One of his lawyers, Billy Martin, said: "We believe the evidence in the case will show he has been the victim of unscrupulous tax advice."
Once a major box office attraction but now decidedly B-list, the actor is accused of fraudulently claiming tax refunds worth almost $12m. He is also charged with failing to file taxes between 1999 and 2004. Two associates, Douglas Rosile and Eddie Ray Kahn, have also been charged. Prosecutors said that Mr Kahn is the founder of American Rights Litigators (ARL) and its successor, Guiding Light of God Ministries (GLGM), both based in central Florida. Mr Rosile is an accountant who prepared tax returns for ARL members.
Mr Kahn has been in the news before, apparently telling his clients that US law does not oblige people to pay taxes, that the IRS is not a legal organisation and that taxes paid by US citizens are diverted to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The indictment alleges that the three men tried "through dishonest means, to make it appear as if Mr Snipes had no liability for federal income taxes, when, in fact, Mr Snipes had such tax liabilities. As part of the scheme, the defendants allegedly prepared and filed two amended federal income tax returns for Mr Snipes, fraudulently claiming refunds of 1996 and 1997 income taxes previously paid, totalling almost $12m."
Snipes was apparently in good spirits when he arrived in Florida on Friday morning joking that the blustery, cold winds were in contrast to the weather in Namibia. He said his film project was aimed at helping boost Africa's nascent film industry: "We are trying to create a nice exchange - a cultural and transatlantic exchange of the arts."
His appearance followed two months of negotiation between his lawyers and prosecutors in Florida, where he lives. The indictment against the actor was first filed in October. At the time it was not clear where Snipes was and prosecutors said they were unable to locate him.
The indictment said that the ARL, founded by Mr Kahn, claimed to be an organisation that aggressively defended the rights of American citizens while the GLGM posed as a "Christian ministry... established to assist men and women in their pursuit of truth and freedom as Americans". It added: "In reality, ARL and GLGM were for-profit, commercial enterprises that promoted and sold fraudulent tax schemes."
At the time, Paul Perez, US Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, told reporters: " Those who intentionally and unlawfully harass the IRS through deceit, trickery and fraud undermine the collection of revenue that is vital to every aspect of the operation of our government, including defence, the war on terror, health care, law enforcement and education."Reuse content