Boris Becker, the former tennis star, was given a two year suspended prison sentence and fined €500,000 (£315,000) after a court in Munich found him guilty yesterday of persistent tax evasion during the early 1990s.
The three-time Wimbledon champion was convicted of failing to pay €1.7m in tax to the German fiscal authorities between 1991 and 1993 by pretending that he was a Monaco resident although he actually spent most of the period living in Munich.
The verdict, delivered by Judge Huberta Knoeringer, was greeted with loud applause because it overturned prosecution demands that the accused serve a three-and-a-half year prison term. That demand had visibly shocked Becker and his lawyers.
Clearly relieved, Becker laughed for the first time during the two-day hearing and promised he would not reoffend. "I am a free man and that is the most important thing. A very difficult phase of my life, full of problems, has now been ended," he told reporters.
In addition to the suspended sentence, Judge Knoeringer ordered Becker to pay a €300,000 fine and donate a further €200,000 to charity. "This means you have to report to the police, pay the fine and stay out of trouble for the next three years," she said. "Don't let me catch you back here for anything to do with tax matters."
Becker, 34, had earlier claimed that his rooftop apartment in the exclusive Munich suburb of Bogenhausen was hardly a real home because it had neither a fridge nor a sink. He said that during his time there he had been mainly interested in tennis and girls and did not understand the complexities of the German tax system.
The prosecution said yesterday said it would not appeal against the ruling. But Matthias Musiol, the chief prosecutor in the case, insisted he had been right to demand that Becker be sent to jail: "It is still my view that a prison term would have been the most appropriate consequence," he said.
Mr Musiol argued that Becker, who had paid his tax debts prior to the trial, had done nothing to assist the prosecution's investigation into his affairs. He said Becker had only agreed to admit his guilt and pay back the tax owing after it became clear that he could not reach an out-of-court settlement.
Evidence supplied by a jilted Becker fan played a key role in the prosecution's case. The fan, Hans Gerd, had made up a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings that documented Becker's movements over seven years. Mr Gerd had repeatedly tried to obtain an autograph from his hero but Becker had apparently refused each time. Mr Gerd was apparently so infuriated at being ignored that he handed his scrapbook to the prosecution.
The verdict nevertheless represented another financial blow for the calamity-prone Becker who won some €25m in prize money during his career. Last year, he paid an estimated €1.5m to a woman in an out-of-court settlement after admitting he was the father of her child. Two of his businesses recently went bankrupt. He has also paid out a reported €10m to his ex-wife Barbara Feltus as part of a divorce settlement.