Philippine boxing hero Manny Pacquiao said Tuesday authorities had frozen all his domestic bank accounts over allegations of unpaid taxes from lucrative fights in the United States, leaving him financially paralysed.
“This is harassment,” the former eight-division world champion said in an interview on ABS-CBN television, as he disclosed for the first time a freeze order issued by the Philippines’ Bureau of Internal Revenue in recent months.
The shock announcement came just two days after Pacquiao, 34, resurrected his boxing career with a unanimous points decision win over American Brandon Rios in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau.
The victory, which Pacquiao devoted to the victims of typhoon Haiyan, only added to his luster among millions of ordinary Filipinos who idolise the fighter.
Pacquiao is now eyeing more lucrative fights in the United States. He is also pursuing a political career in the Philippines, where he is a second-term congressman with ambitions of eventually becoming president.
Pacquiao said the tax office took the action because it believed he had evaded paying 2.2 billion pesos ($50.2 million) in taxes on his fights in the United States in 2008 and 2009 when he was at the peak of his career and earning tens of millions of dollars.
He said he had broken no laws because he had already paid taxes on those earnings in the United States, which has a treaty with the Philippines that allows citizens of both countries avoid double taxation.
However, he said the tax bureau had rejected the documents he provided as proof that he had already paid to the US Internal Revenue Service.
“I am not a criminal or a thief. I am not hiding anything. I will face my problems as they come,” Pacquiao said.
“I have already paid my taxes in America. Had I not paid the correct taxes they (US authorities) would have come after me and I would not have been able to travel there.”
The Philippine tax bureau confirmed the local bank accounts of Pacquiao and his wife, Jinkee, had been frozen.
“According to the collection division we have issued a garnishment of his bank accounts,” Dino Somera, litigation division official of the tax bureau, told AFP.
Somera said he did not know how much money was in the bank accounts of the couple, and Pacquiao did not disclose the amount in the television interview.
The Pacquiaos have asked the Court of Tax Appeals to lift the bank freeze, but the court has yet to rule on the couple’s petition, according to court papers released to the media.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman Herminio Coloma brushed off suggestions Pacquiao was being singled out for political harassment.
“We are a government of laws not of men,” Coloma told reporters, adding Philippine law authorises the tax bureau to seize the assets of delinquent taxpayers.
The government has been running an active campaign against high-profile tax evaders, targetting movie stars as well as businessmen who flaunt their wealth through flashy sports cars.
Pacquiao said most of his cash was kept in the Philippine bank accounts.
He said the freeze order had left him without money to pay his staff, and forced him to borrow “not less than one million pesos” to fulfil pledges to help victims of a devastating super typhoon in the Philippines.
At his peak, Pacquiao was regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, becoming the only man to win world titles in eight weight divisions.
The former street kid who ran away from home to pursue a boxing career became one of the wealthiest athletes in the world.
But his career nosedived after suffering 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 even last year, Forbes magazine listed him as the 14th highest-paid athlete globally with an estimated $34 million in earnings.