Court gags Philippines, Pacquiao in tax war

Court gags Philippines, Pacquiao in tax war

MANILA - A Philippine court on Thursday slapped a gag order on boxing hero Manny Pacquiao and the tax bureau as they battle over his allegedly unpaid taxes worth tens of millions of dollars.

The tax appeals court ordered both sides not to make any public comment on the dispute during a hearing about the Bureau of Internal Revenue's allegations that Pacquiao owes US$50 million (S$62.8 million) in unpaid taxes in 2008 and 2009.

Judge Ramon del Rosario told lawyers for both sides "to make no public pronouncements that may create opinion for or against" in the dispute that broke out just after Pacquiao scored a comeback victory over American Brandon Rios on November 24.

"There is a gag order. It was for the best interest of both parties," said internal revenue lawyer Felix Velasco after the brief hearing.

He said the order followed a joint motion by both parties as the court postponed the next hearing to January 16.

The boxing star, who was at his home in the southern Philippines, did not attend the hearing.

Pacquiao, who was listed by Forbes magazine last year as the 14th highest-paid athlete globally with an estimated US$34 million in earnings, had accused the tax bureau of freezing his bank accounts and forcing him to borrow money to pay his staff.

He says he paid taxes in the United States on earnings from his fights there.

The boxer, who has parlayed his sports fame into election to Congress and has expressed ambitions to run for president, has also accused the tax bureau of harassing him for political purposes.

But the internal revenue commissioner Kim Henares has said only two bank accounts had been frozen. Henares said the bureau had been giving Pacquiao enough leeway to pay his back taxes but he has not complied.

Sources involved in the case said the postponement of the hearing was intended to give both sides time to try to reach a settlement without going to court.

Pacquiao's sporting career took a nosedive after he suffered two losses last year, the second in a humiliating knockout to Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez that prompted questions over whether the ageing warrior should retire.

But his victory over Rios has revived both his image and the sentiments of Filipinos who have been battered by a series of disasters in recent months.

Super Typhoon Haiyan flattened whole towns and left more than 7,500 people dead or missing when it hit on November 8.

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