An Egyptian court sentenced Mohamed Aboutrika, one of the country’s greatest all-time soccer players, to a year in prison for tax evasion while also giving him the option to pay a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds, or $1,115, to have the sentence suspended.
The verdict, handed down on Monday by the Cairo misdemeanor court, was delivered in absentia.
Aboutrika, who has lived since his 2013 soccer retirement in exile in Qatar, where he works as a sports analyst for the beIN sports network, could not be reached for comment.
Under the law, the verdict can be appealed and if Aboutrika returns to Egypt, he would have to stand a new trial.
The court said Aboutrika failed to pay 710,000 Egyptian pounds — about $39,500 — in taxes on income from advertising deals with carbonated drink and telecommunications companies in 2008 and 2009.
Egypt froze Aboutrika’s assets in 2015 and placed him on a no-fly list in 2017 over allegations of links to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which authorities have labelled a terrorist organization.
The Brotherhood emerged as the country’s dominant political force after Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring uprising but was later purged in 2013, when the army, led by general-turned-president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi overthrew Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected but divisive president.
Aboutrika played for Cairo’s Al-Ahly club and was central to two of Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.
Aboutrika was dubbed “Prince of Hearts” and “The Magician” by his soccer fans.
But he also openly sympathized with the Brotherhood and publicly endorsed Morsi in his successful presidential run in 2012, a year after the overthrow of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Egyptian pro-government media now refer to Aboutrika as a traitor but he still enjoys huge support from his soccer fans in the country.
Aboutrika has repeatedly denied ever funding the Islamists, who have been the main target of a fierce government crackdown on dissent led by current President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.