Tennis-Sanchez Vicario blames ex-husband as fraud trial starts

By Horaci Garcia

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Former Spanish tennis great Arantxa Sanchez Vicario told a court on Tuesday at the start of a fraud trial that she had trusted her then husband to handle her money and she was not aware of any illegal tampering with her family assets.

Sanchez Vicario, 51, and her former husband Josep Santacana stand accused of hiding assets to avoid paying a 7.6 million-euro ($8.14 million) debt to Banque de Luxembourg, including interest, according to the prosecutor.

The two, who divorced in 2019, deny the charges. They could face up to four years in prison if convicted and be liable for millions of euros in compensation.

"I did what he told me to do, because I am a tennis player, I have no knowledge of assets or companies or anything. I trusted my husband," she told the court in Barcelona, sobbing at times.

She said she only became aware of the seriousness of the situation later and confronted her husband, who "acknowledged the facts". She told the court she had already paid around 1.9 million euros to the bank and committed to paying half of her income.

Sanchez Vicario was the first Spanish player to reach the top of women's tennis rankings. She won the French Open three times and the U.S. Open as a singles player before retiring in 2002.

In an interview with El Pais daily on Sunday, she said her mistake was "falling in love" and trusting her husband.

She also said she had no money to support her children and had to rely on financial support from her friends.

However, Santacana told La Vanguardia newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday he was not the one responsible, and that Sanchez Vicario's mistake was not falling in love with him, but not paying her taxes and not being accountable to her family.

"I just expect the truth to be told and this to be over," Santacana told reporters outside the court, where he is yet to be heard. His lawyer delcined to comment.

Sanchez Vicario was ordered in 2009 by the Supreme Court to pay a 5.2 million euros fine for tax fraud.

The ruling covered the period between 1989 and 1993 when, according to the court ruling, Sanchez Vicario was resident in Spain rather than Andorra as she had claimed.

After the couple transferred their assets from Banque de Luxembourg, the Spanish state eventually collected the money from the bank through a guarantee agreement.

The bank accused the couple of never honouring their debt and concealing their assets. In a civil suit in 2014, a Spanish court ruled in favour of the bank but the money was never paid, so the bank resorted to the criminal courts.

($1 = 0.9332 euros)

(Reporting by Fernando Kallas, Emma Pinedo and Horaci Garcia, editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan)