Maradona in Naples to clear name
Diego Maradona has returned to Naples to plead his innocence over an outstanding 40 million euros ($52.5 million) tax bill issued to him by the Italian justice system.
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The former Argentina and Napoli striker expressed his desire to avoid persecution in the southern Italian city, where he is held in high esteem by fans of the Serie A club with whom he won two league titles in 1987 and 1990.
Hundreds of supporters greeted the 52-year-old on his arrival at Naples airport yesterday but he declined to speak to the press about claims he owes the Italian state millions of euros in unpaid taxes until today's press conference.
In previous visits to Italy in recent years, tax police have confiscated two Rolex watches and a diamond earring from Maradona, plus 3 million euros ($4 million) he had earned from appearing on the ''Ballando con le stelle'' TV dance show.
In 2010, plans for a match in Naples celebrating Maradona's 50th birthday had to be abandoned due to threats from tax authorities.
Quoted in the Gazzetta dello Sport, Maradona said: "I want to tell everyone that I have Napoli in my very soul. I've wanted to say so for a long time but there are people who would not let me do so."
The 1986 World Cup-winner blames senior figures at the club at the time for the situation he now finds himself.
"Everyone who drafted my contract (at Napoli) is free today. I was out on the training field at the time but now when I come to Italy the financial authorities want to take my earrings from me," he said.
"Why do I have to pay and not them, when I gave my life to Napoli? I am not a victim because I have earned a lot of money but I didn't know anything about the contractual issues.
"I am facing up to the situation because I have not killed anyone."
Maradona was ordered to pay 37.2m euros ($48.7m) in unpaid taxes in 2005. His lawyer Angelo Pisani subsequently declared the debt had been cleared but Italy's tax authorities are still demanding he pay up.
Maradona is determined to clear his name so he can return to Italy in the future with his family.
He added: "I want to come back to Italy with my grandson to watch Napoli. I want him to see what his grandfather did here and not be remembered as a tax-dodger, which I am not.
"I want to believe that justice exists and I want to ask that justice system to let me walk freely in Italy and in Naples.
"I want to represent the people but an Argentinian cannot resolve the problems of the Italian people. I hope that all the people who, like me, are involved in this kind of problem come out of it well."
Associated Press copy has been used in this report