LONDON (AP) – Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp was cleared of tax evasion Wednesday, removing a key barrier to his chances of becoming the next England coach.
Redknapp was found not guilty of two counts of concealing $295,000 of transfer bonuses in a Monaco bank account while in charge of Portsmouth.
In a case that stemmed from an 8 million-pound ($13 million) police inquiry into football corruption, former Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric also was found not guilty of two counts of cheating the public purse.
Mandaric hugged Redknapp as the verdict was announced, and their supporters cheered from the back of the courtroom after the two-week trial at London's Southwark Crown Court.
''It really has been a nightmare,'' said Redknapp, who was first arrested in 2007. ''It's been five years and this is a case that should never have come to court because it's unbelievable, really.
''It was horrendous, you know, but it was a unanimous decision. The jury were absolutely unanimous that there was no case to answer. I'm pleased now we can go home and get on with our lives.''
Redknapp was brought to Tottenham from Portsmouth in 2008 despite the allegations hanging over him.
''Everyone at the club is delighted for Harry and his family,'' Tottenham said in a statement. ''This has been hanging over him for over four years and the last two weeks have been particularly difficult. We are pleased to see this resolved and we all look forward to the rest of the season.''
In his third decade in management, the 64-year-old Redknapp is enjoying his most successful period, making him the favorite to replace Fabio Capello after the European Championship this summer.
As Redknapp was cleared, Capello was at Wembley Stadium seeking to resolve a dispute with Football Association executives over the decision to strip John Terry of the England captaincy. Terry faces trial in July on charges of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand.
''Now that Harry has been proved innocent it makes a clear path should the FA wish in the future to offer him the England manager's job when Fabio Capello comes to the end of his reign,'' former England coach Graham Taylor said.
Redknapp managed Portsmouth from 2002 to 2004 and returned in 2005 after a brief spell at Southampton, winning the FA Cup before moving to Tottenham in 2008.
Despite facing a trial, Redknapp has kept Tottenham in contention for its first English title since 1961, with the team currently third in the Premier League.
Jurors accepted Redknapp and Mandaric's evidence that the Monaco account in the name of Redknapp's dog, Rosie, had nothing to do with footballing matters. The 73-year-old Mandaric claimed he was providing tax free loans to Redknapp.
Britain's tax authority said it had ''no regrets'' about taking the case to trial.
''It was vitally important that the facts were put before a jury for their consideration,'' said Chris Martin, assistant director of criminal investigations at HM Revenue and Customs. ''We accept the verdict of the jury but I would like to remind those who are evading tax by using offshore tax havens that it always makes sense to come forward and talk to us before we come to talk to you.''
At an earlier trial, which could only be reported for the first time on Wednesday, Mandaric and former Portsmouth chief executive Peter Storrie were also cleared of evading 600,000 pounds in taxes.
Mandaric is now chairman of third-tier club Sheffield Wednesday following a spell in control of Leicester after selling Portsmouth in 2007.
''I am delighted I have today been cleared of the totally unfounded allegations of tax evasion,'' the Serbian said. ''I came to Britain 12 years ago because of my love of football and since saved three much-loved football clubs which were on the brink of extinction.
''As a result I have saved thousands of jobs and paid tens of millions of pounds into the public purse through tax. To suggest I would cheat the taxman is highly offensive to me, my family, my associates and friends. I am happy that my good name and reputation has been upheld.''
Rob Harris can be reached at www.twitter.com/RobHarrisUK