Football: Italy World Cup hero Cannavaro probed over tax fraud

ROME (AFP) - Italy's World Cup winning captain Fabio Cannavaro is being investigated on suspicion of running a sham company to avoid paying more than a million euros (S$1.6 million) in tax, Italian authorities announced Wednesday.

The former Real Madrid centre-back, who led Italy to glory in Germany in 2006, has had property and other assets worth 900,000 euros confiscated in connection with an ongoing probe into a luxury boat rental business that Cannavaro, 41, ran with his wife.

In a statement, prosecutors in Cannavaro's home city of Naples, said they suspected that three multi-million-euro vessels supposedly available for rental through the company were in fact exclusively for the couple's private use.

As such, Cannavaro and his wife, Daniela Arenoso, 40, should have declared them as taxable assets and not been able to benefit from the various tax breaks for which only companies are eligible.

Tax inspectors have estimated that the operation of what was effectively a sham company, FD Service, enabled the couple to avoid more than one million euros in taxes and VAT between 2005 and 2010.

The prosecutors said that they had obtained evidence of Cannavaro's direct involvement in the fraud and of other, unspecified, illegal actions in relation to the company.

Also under investigation is Eugenio Tuccillo, described by prosecutors as an individual of limited means to whom Cannavaro sold the business shortly after the opening of the tax probe. Almost immediately after taking over, Tuccillo put the company into administration in what inspectors suspect was an attempt to hide the fraud.

In an illustrious playing career, Cannavaro played for Napoli, Parma, Inter Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid before a final stint with Al-Ahli in Dubai, where he is currently assistant coach. His movie-star looks, 136 caps and rise from the back streets of Naples to the summit of world football have made him a national icon in Italy, a country that prizes defenders like no other.

Famed for being as tough on the pitch as the teak on one of his boats, Cannavaro had, until now, also enjoyed a squeaky-clean image as a family man.