Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 October 2020

Former Barcelona star Ronaldinho arrested in Paraguay over false passport claims

Paraguayan police says former Brazil international and his brother were taken into custody just hours after a judge refused to ratify a prosecutor's proposal for an alternative punishment

Former Barcelona and Brazil forward Ronaldinho was arrested in Paraguay on Friday for attempting to enter the country with a forged passport.

Gilberto Fleitas, the head of the investigations unit of the Paraguayan police, said Ronaldinho and his brother were taken into custody just hours after a judge refused to ratify a prosecutor's proposal for an alternative punishment.

"The detention order has been carried out," Fleitas told Reuters.

TV pictures showed the pair being taken in a police vehicle from the Sheraton hotel in Asuncion to a police station on the outskirts of the city.

Ronaldinho and his brother Roberto Assis, who is also his business manager, are expected to face a judge on later Saturday who will decide whether to free the pair or keep them in custody while investigations continue.

Their unexpected arrest came just hours after the two brothers appeared set to leave the landlocked South American nation and draw a line under their tumultuous stay that began on Wednesday when they were questioned by police after presenting falsified passports on arrival at the Asuncion airport.

Ronaldinho and his brother deny wrongdoing and say they thought the passports were a courtesy gesture.

Federico Delfino, a prosecutor investigating the case, said he believed the two had been tricked into accepting the passports on arrival and recommended that because they had cooperated with officials they be released after paying an alternative punishment.

However, a judge rejected that accord on Friday and just minutes later the deal was abrogated by the top public prosecutor.

Arrest warrants were then issued for both the former AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain player and his brother.

Officers from the organised crime and economic crimes units have been tasked with handling the case, a statement from the top prosecutor’s office said.

In July 2019, Ronaldinho reportedly had his Brazilian and Spanish passports confiscated over unpaid taxes and non-payment of fines for illegally building on a nature reserve in Brazil.

The 39-year-old had travelled to Paraguay to promote a book and a campaign for underprivileged children.

Although he last played professionally in 2015, Ronaldinho, who also turned out for Brazilian clubs Atletico Mineiro, Flamengo and Fluminense, is still hugely popular with global football fans for his skills and showmanship.

Ronaldinho was the 2004 and 2005 World Player of the Year and reached the prime of his career at Spanish giants Barcelona. He won the World Cup for Brazil in 2002 alongside fellow superstar forwards Ronaldo and Rivaldo.

Ronaldinho's net worth is estimated at between £80-100 million (Dh383-479 million) and he is reported to charge around $256,000 for a single promoted Instagram post, where he has more than 50 million followers.

Updated: March 7, 2020 11:07 AM

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