Ronaldinho set to end five-month prison hell and return to Brazil for fake passport scandal
RONALDINHO is expected to be allowed to return to Brazil on Monday after a five-month Paraguayan prison and house arrest hell.
The former Barcelona and AC Milan star has been offered freedom and an escape from trial in exchange for a £70,000 cash payment following his fake passport scandal arrest.
Brother Roberto de Assis Moreira is expected to be allowed to leave Paraguay on the same plane if a judge accepts a new prosecution proposal based around a two-year suspended jail sentence and a £85,000 fine.
Both men would have to plead guilty to a charge of entering the country with falsified passports as part of a so-called deal called a ‘salida process’ in Paraguay, according to reports in the South American country.
Ronaldinho’s release would bring to an early end his five-month forced stay in Paraguay, which began in March with a month in prison before he was allowed to move to the four-star Palmoroga Hotel in the capital Asuncion with his brother as part of a house arrest deal.
The 40-year-old revealed in an interview at the end of April with Paraguayan daily ABC Color that the first thing he will do when he recovers his freedom is give his doting mum Miguelina “a big kiss".
The same newspaper says prosecutors have asked judge Gustavo Amarilla to spare Ronaldinho an embarrassing trial and hand his older sibling a suspended prison sentence.
The cash payments the pair will reportedly be asked to pay to secure their release and be able to fly home are being described locally as “reparation of the social damage” their behaviour caused.
ABC Color says Ronaldinho could expect a two-year prison sentence if his lawyers reject the prosecution deal.
The footballer’s legal team, who have always insisted Ronaldinho was not aware he was breaking any laws, were yet to make any official comment by Saturday.
Prosecutors are understood to have told the judge – who will also decide the retired footballer's brother’s fate – they have no evidence Roberto had any “direct participation” in the “planning part” of the obtention of the falsified passports.
Ronaldinho and his brother were arrested on March 6 after entering Paraguay to launch an online casino and a book with doctored passports falsely showing they were naturalised Paraguayan citizens.
A criminal investigation is ongoing and officials have linked the false passport scandal, which has led to the arrests of more than a dozen people including a Brazilian businessman alleged to have handed them the travel documents, to an attempted money laundering operation.
Ronaldinho, who has been staying at a presidential suite in his hotel , turned 40 in March while he was still in prison and had to make do with a low-key barbecue cooked for him by other inmates.
The fallen star and his brother have consistently claimed they were tricked.
Ronaldinho’s Paraguayan lawyer Adolfo Marin has said he had been given his Paraguayan passport as a “gift”, assumed it was an ‘honorary-type’ document of no real value, and gave it to an official without thinking when he reached Paraguay because it was the “first thing he got out of his bag”.
In March the lawyer branded Ronaldinho “stupid”, saying he hadn’t understood he had been given false documents to enter Paraguay.
FALL FROM GRACE
Ronaldinho’s life has been under the microscope for all the wrong reasons since he won two Fifa World Player of the Year Awards as well as a Ballon d’Or at the peak of his playing career.
He officially retired from football in 2018, the same year he was forced to deny bigamy claims.
He had his Brazilian passport confiscated after he was convicted alongside his brother of building an illegal fishing platform on a lake in a conservation area, but Paraguayan prosecutors confirmed last month they had discovered it had been returned to him and he used it to leave Brazil on a flight from Sao Paulo.
The revelation left a huge question mark over why Ronaldinho did not use the same passport when he entered Paraguay, with his lawyer’s comments about it being the “first thing” he laid his hands on being greeted with a mixture of derision and disbelief.
Last year it was reported Ronaldinho only had £5 in his bank account.
Police raided a Ronaldinho family home to seize assets in a bid to guarantee he paid fines due over the illegal fishing platform.
Officers were said last November to have seized three luxury cars and a piece of art from painter Andre Berardo.
Finding out I was going to prison hit me hard. I never imagined I would be in a situation like this. All my life I’ve tried to reach my highest level professionally and bring happiness to people with my football.
Ronaldinho’s brother was sentenced to five years in jail in 2012 in Brazil for money laundering and other financial crimes.
Reports at the time said Roberto de Assis had been accused of lying to Brazilian tax authorities to justify the entry into his homeland of money held in secret accounts in Switzerland.
Early in April the 2002 World Cup winner showed he was still smiling despite house arrest and the threat of prison with a live appearance from his hotel room in Paraguay.
He was a surprise guest during an online show by his friends in Brazilian samba band Grupo Revelacao.
He greeted the band with his trademark goofy grin during a video call.
And he also waved with his personalised thumb and little finger waggle, the same gesture he made when Paraguayan judge Gustavo Amarilla told him on April 7 he was being released from jail after approving his house arrest petition.
Ronaldinho has taken to the stage several times in the past with the samba band. He performed with them during one of their shows in Rio de Janeiro in 2011.
He is also said to have been a close friend of the band’s former lead singer Xande de Pilares.
In his sole interview from the hotel where he is under house arrest, conducted with three journalists from Paraguayan daily ABC Color, Ronaldinho insisted at the end of April: “We were totally stunned when we found out the documents weren’t legal.
“From that moment onwards our intention has been to co-operate with the courts to clarify all this.
“I have my faith. I always pray so that things turn out okay and God willing this will all end soon.
“Finding out I was going to prison hit me hard. I never imagined I would be in a situation like this.
“All my life I’ve tried to reach my highest level professionally and bring happiness to people with my football."
He said the other inmates he spent time with in jail, where he was pictured playing football and footvolley, treated him kindly.
Insisting he was happy to sign autographs and pose for photos with the people he met in prison, he added: “Playing football, signing autographs and having photos taken is part of my life.
“I’d have no reason to stop doing it, especially with people who were experiencing a difficult time the same as me.”
Asked what his plans would be when he was finally freed from his nightmare, Ronaldinho said: “The first thing I will do is give my mum a big kiss.
“She’s been experiencing a difficult time of it since the start of the coronavirus crisis.
“After that I’ll absorb the impact this situation has generated and carry on with faith and strength.”
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