Manny Pacquiao's squeaky-clean image is in danger of taking a hit after the boxing star became embroiled in two public controversies in his native Philippines.
Pacquiao has been accused of housing a fugitive former politician under investigation in connection with a stolen car racket and, in a separate incident, could reportedly face two years imprisonment after tax officials started proceedings against him for contempt.
The 33-year-old Pacquiao will soon step up his training ahead of his June 9 fight against Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas, but will undoubtedly be concerned with the implications of the recent negative publicity, especially how it may impact his political aspirations.
Pacquiao is a cult figure of epic proportions in the Philippines, where his fights literally bring the nation to a standstill and where he currently holds a place in Congress. His national popularity is higher than that of incumbent president Benigno Aquino III, and it is widely expected he will run for the presidency after his career in the ring comes to an end.
However, the admiration of his people has not spared Pacquiao from inquisition at the hands of the authorities. Filipino tax chiefs have been angered by his alleged refusal to cooperate with an investigation into his financial affairs, and allege that he skipped a February 7 deadline to hand over details of his assets, account books and records of his earnings from fights against Antonio Margarito and Joshua Clottey.
The Bureau for Internal Revenue responded by issuing a criminal complaint of contempt against him with the Koronadal state prosecutor, who must decide what action to take. Jail time for offenses such as this is rare in the Philippines, but a maximum penalty of a two-year sentence is possible.
"If they are looking for something, they should give us time to review the order," Pacquiao said in a television interview. "I don't have any intention to evade the investigation."
Eric Diesto, a tax investigator for the Philippines revenue service, claimed Pacquiao had been made aware of his obligations in regard to providing the required documentation and dismissed suggestions the boxer had been targeted because of his celebrity status.
"He is not being singled out," Diesto told the Visayan Daily Star. "We have also filed complaints against 39 other people."
Contacted by Yahoo! Sports on Monday evening, Pacquiao's promoter Bob Arum was adamant that all of the fighter's tax matters relating to his earnings in the United States are in perfect order. Arum, a former tax attorney, said that 30 percent of all Pacquiao's American fight purses and endorsement deals is automatically withheld and he was entitled to a full credit against the withheld amount in his homeland. "No one is saying he didn't pay his taxes," Arum said. "In reading this, it seems they asked him for certain documents that were not given. He does have some smaller endorsement deals in the Philippines that we don't deal with. If the people dealing with them are somewhat cavalier in terms of their IRS records, then there could be something there."
Arum added that Pacquiao's adviser, Michael Koncz, had assured him the matter was in the process of being settled.
Pacquiao's other brush with the headlines revolves around controversial Filipino figure and former head of the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group, Mohammad "Bong" Akia. Akia, it is claimed, was last seen on a flight from Manila to General Santos City with Pacquiao several weeks ago.
In an article for Minda News, journalist Edwin Espejo cited sources claiming Akia had taken refuge in Pacquiao's luxury residence while being hunted by police investigating his alleged sale of a stolen vehicle, one of 26 cars retrieved by police. Akia was allegedly driven to Pacquiao's residence, where he has supposedly stayed.
Pacquiao responded by starting a libel action against the journalist - although Espejo has been publicly backed by the Philippines' leading media and civil rights group.
Arum said he was perplexed by the incident, saying: "I can't make heads or tails of it."
The recent controversy will likely do little to affect Pacquiao's status among the Filipino people, but it will do nothing to help his reputation in the political realm. Earlier this year he gained attention for having the fourth-worst attendance record of all members of the Philippines Congress.
Pacquiao's training camp for the Bradley fight will begin in Baguio City in the Philippines, before switching to the Wildcard Gym in Los Angeles in the last week of April.
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