Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – Former football star Ronaldinho arrived home in Brazil on a private jet on Tuesday, following more than five months in detention in Paraguay over a fake passport scandal.
The former Ballon d’Or winner arrived at Rio de Janeiro’s international airport from Paraguay’s capital Asuncion just before 4:30 pm (1930 GMT.)
A judge on Monday released Ronaldinho, 40, and his brother, who had both been held for a month in jail and another four months under house arrest in a hotel in Asuncion.
The brothers arrived in Paraguay on March 4 because Ronaldinho was due to take part in an event in support of disadvantaged children.
However, two days later, the pair were taken into police custody when investigators raided their hotel following the discovery they had fake documents.
The former World Cup winner is now “free to travel to whatever country in the world he wants but he must inform us if he changes his permanent residence” for a period of one year, the judge said.
“He has no restrictions except for the fulfilment of reparations for damage to society.”
Dressed in jeans, a black beret and black shirt at Monday’s court hearing, Ronaldinho accepted the terms of his release, which include payment of $90,000 in damages.
His brother Roberto de Assis Moreira, who is also Ronaldinho’s business manager, must pay $110,000.
The judge stressed that he was not issuing a “definitive dismissal” of the case but that Ronaldinho was benefitting from a “conditional suspension of the procedure.”
His brother was given a two-year suspended sentence.
– ‘Vilely deceived’? –
Prosecutors said they did not believe Ronaldinho took part in the plan to manufacture the fake Paraguayan passports but believed de Assis Moreira was aware that the passports were false.
“They flagrantly used a public document containing false content,” said Marcelo Pecci, one of the public prosecutors, who said it was a “very serious” offense.
Before Monday’s trial the public prosecutor said that Ronaldinho displayed no “personal characteristics or criminal behavior that… would put society at risk.”
The defense issued a statement insisting on the innocence of both brothers, saying “the people they trusted deceived them vilely.”
After being held in a police station in Asuncion, where Ronaldinho celebrated his 40th birthday on March 21, the two men had been under house arrest in a luxury hotel, on bail of $1.6 million.
The investigation has since expanded into a case of possible money laundering and criminal association.
Some 18 people have been arrested in connection with the case, most of them immigration officials or police officers.
Ronaldinho, considered one of the greatest footballers of all time, was crucial in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup win.
He played for European giants such as Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain during a hugely successful 10-year stint in Europe.
He won the Champions League and two La Liga titles with Barcelona and Serie A with Milan.
After returning home to Brazil he won the Copa Libertadores — South America’s equivalent of the Champions League — with Atletico Mineiro.
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