The Italian Almanac

Diego Armando Maradona

Maradona and the Taxman

An earring taken from Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona in part-payment of a massive tax debt fetched five times the starting price. The diamond-studded earring, confiscated by the Italian taxman while the Argentina coach was in an Italian weight-loss clinic in September, had a reserve price of 5,500 euros ($8,000) when the bidding started in a hotel the nothern Italian city of Bolzano.

The auction quickly became a tussle between two bidders, a man on a cellphone and a well-dressed lady. The woman eventually landed the coveted item with a final bid of 25,000 euros ($37,000). "I'm satisfied by the result," she said before a bodyguard ushered her into a lift. The woman refused to give her name or say where she was from but she had a southern Italian accent.

The earring was plucked from the Argentine soccer great when Maradona received his latest visit from Italian tax police at health guru Henri Chenot's clinic near Bolzano on September 15. The earring was initially valued at 4,000 euros ($5,800) but the auction was always expected to reap more because the successful bidder also stood to get a copy of the complaint handed to Maradona, which the ex-Napoli legend was required to sign.

Italian police have been ready to pounce on Maradona every time he has returned to Italy since he lost a long wrangle with the Italian tax man in February 2005. Italy's highest appeals court, the Cassation Court, rejected Maradona's appeal against a 30-million-euro fine inflicted in 1991 for off-the-books earnings in sponsorship and merchandising deals. Since then, despite a string of stings, the debt has risen to some 36 million euros with interest accruing at the rate of 3,000 euros a day. Maradona saw his 78,500-euro fee for taking part in Italy's Dancing With The Stars disappear in 2005, while the following year he was deprived of a gold Rolex worth some 11,000 euros. Other seizures have resulted in a total repayment of just 50,000 euros but the taxman's net will not be loosened any time soon.

Maradona played for Napoli from 1984 to 1991, leading them to the league title twice - their only scudettos - plus two Italian Cup wins and a UEFA Cup victory. He also helped Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986, scoring the 'Hand of God' goal and the most highly voted 'best goal ever' against England along the way. Banned for drug use in 1991, he moved to Spain before returning home and training hard for the 1994 World Cup, where he tested positive for ephedrine and received a FIFA ban that ended his international career.