NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Diego Maradona has issued a verbal appeal to Italian authorities to clear his name in a tax evasion case, even offering to meet with the country's president.
"I didn't kill anyone," the Argentine great said Tuesday at a news conference, surrounded by his lawyers and bodyguards. "I'm here to seek justice." Maradona's Italian debts of nearly €40 million (more than $50 million) stem from supposed unpaid taxes during the time he played for Napoli from 1984-91, a period in which he helped the club win its only two Serie A titles.
Maradona said Napoli club officials were responsible for his playing contract with the team. "Why do I have to pay and not them?" he said. "I'm a victim because I earned a lot but I didn't know anything about contractual questions. I'm showing my face because I didn't kill anyone.
"If (Italian) President (Giorgio) Napolitano wants to speak with me, I'll explain everything to him," Maradona added. Maradona's lawyer, Angelo Pisani, recently said his client won the dispute. But the collection agency issued a statement this month saying it had not "annulled, declared extinct, nor modified" Maradona's debts.
In previous visits to Italy in recent years, tax police have confiscated two Rolex watches and a diamond earring from Maradona, plus €3 million ($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. Napoli is currently second in Serie A, six points behind Juventus, and hosts the league leaders on Friday.
Maradona will reportedly fly to Dubai late Tuesday but could return to Naples for Friday's match. The 1986 World Cup winner with Argentina said he wants to return to Italy with his grandson to watch Napoli.
"I want him to see what grandpa did and not to be remembered as an evader, which I'm not," Maradona said. "I want to believe that justice exists. I want justice so I can walk freely in Italy and Naples."
Maradona added that he's not thinking about a coaching job with Napoli "because the position is already occupied by (Walter) Mazzarri, who's doing a great job."