Maradona returns to Italy despite tax storm

ROME (AFP) - Diego Maradona returns to Italy on Monday where he will again find himself facing questions over allegations that he owes millions of euros in taxes.

The Argentine World Cup winner, still an idol in Italy after leading Napoli to Serie A titles more than 20 years ago, will watch his former club in Udinese and then give a news conference on Tuesday.

Maradona was convicted in 2005 and ordered to pay 37.2 million euros (S$60.9 million), including 23.5 million euros in interest for late payments.

But a court in November last year said there had been procedural errors and ordered a new investigation.

"Maradona is a free man and his image as a man on the run is an invention of journalists," his lawyer Angelo Pisani told AFP on Sunday.

Maradona has always insisted he is innocent.

"I am not a tax fraudster. I played football and other people signed for me," Maradona said last year.

"I am not afraid of returning to Italy. I never signed anything. The people who are really responsible are free and can walk around calmly in Naples and I can't. That's not fair," he said.

"I want to return to Italy as a gentleman because I never stole anything from anyone."

The player scored 115 goals in 259 matches for Napoli between 1984 and 1991.

Napoli have only won the Italian title twice - in 1987 and 1990 - with Maradona starring in both campaigns.

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