BRAZILIAN soccer legend Ronaldinho has been warned he could be held behind bars for up to six months as an investigation sparked by his use of a doctored passport to enter Paraguay continues.
The former Barcelona and AC Milan star spent a second night in a police cell after being refused bail by a judge on Saturday.
The judge accepted prosecutors’ claims he posed a serious flight risk if he was released from custody.
The 39-year-old is thought to have been spared the nightmare scenario of a normal prison because of his status as one of the world’s best ever footballers.
His lawyers are expected to appeal the decision to incarcerate him while a criminal investigation continues.
But the probe is set to last around six months and Ronaldinho has been warned there is no guarantee he will be freed on bail until a decision on whether to try him is taken.
Even if he is released, authorities are expected to order him to remain in Paraguay until the investigation is completed.
Ronaldinho’s brother and business manager Roberto, who also entered the South American country on Wednesday with an adulterated passport, is being held in the same police station in the capital Asuncion.
Three other people, a Brazilian businessman alleged to have given the pair their passports which stated they were naturalised Paraguayans and two women believed to be the legitimate owners of the travel documents, are also in custody.
And an arrest warrant has been issued for Dalia Lopez, who runs a children’s charity Ronaldinho had been invited to Paraguay to help promote.
A prosecutor specialising in financial crimes has been incorporated into the team of investigators after the scope of the criminal probe was widened to look at possible money laundering.
Police went to Ronaldinho’s five-star hotel hours after he arrived in Paraguay following a tip-off about his use of a passport which had been requested and issued by another person before being modified to include his name and photo.
Prosecutors initially offered him a plea bargain deal and a fine for his “co-operation” and he was expected to leave the country and return to Brazil over the weekend.
But a judge refused to rubber-stamp the deal and on Friday Ronaldinho and his brother were dramatically arrested at the Sheraton Hotel in Asuncion before being hauled to court after a night in police cells.
The footballer and his brother are claiming they were tricked.
Ronaldinho’s lawyer has said his client had been given his Paraguayan passport as a “gift”, assumed it was an ‘honorary-type’ document of no real value, and gave it to an official without thinking when he reached Paraguay because it was the “first thing he got out of his bag.”
Ronaldinho’s life has been under the microscope for all the wrong reasons since he won two Fifa World Player of the Year Awards as well as a Ballon d’Or at the peak of his playing career.
He officially retired from football in 2018.
The same year he was forced to deny bigamy claims.
He had his Brazilian passport confiscated after he was convicted alongside his brother of building an illegal fishing platform on a lake in a conservation area.
But Paraguayan prosecutors confirmed earlier this week they had discovered it had been returned to him and he used it to leave Brazil on a flight from Sao Paulo.
Last year it was reported he only had £5 in his bank account.
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