Ronaldinho enjoys ‘golden cell’ in locked-down Paraguay capital

ASUNCION (AFP) – With Paraguay’s capital in lockdown, former Brazil football star Ronaldinho is spending his second week under house arrest in an exclusive hotel in Asuncion, where a ballroom has been set up to allow him to keep up his football skills, as he awaits trial for entering the country under a false passport.

The 40-year-old World Cup winner and his business-manager brother Roberto are occupying two USD350-a-night suites at the otherwise deserted Colonial-style Palmaroga hotel, just a couple of blocks from the government headquarters.

“Yesterday they brought him a regulation football. We set up a room – about 30 metres by 15 – for him to be able to practise his juggling skills,” hotel manager Emilio Yegros told AFP.
“He seems like a good sort. He always has a smile, like his brother,” said Yegros.

“His face has changed from his first day here. When he arrived he was tense and visibly stressed,” the hotel manager said.

The former Barcelona star spends his days working out in the hotel gym, practising his juggling skills with the ball, and wandering the echoing halls of the 6,000 square-metre building, refurbished in 2019.

Ronaldinho and his brother are among 16 suspects in an extensive anti-corruption investigation. Arrested on March 6 for using falsified Paraguayan passports to enter the country from Brazil, they face up to five years in prison if convicted.

Being held in a police cell for the first 30 days of their detention gave Ronaldinho and his brother a taste of Paraguayan prison conditions, before a court ordered them released into house arrest at the Palmaroga early this month. Bail was set at USD1.6 million.

The fact that the hotel is owned by the Spain-based Barcelona Group, which has construction projects in Paraguay, is “pure coincidence” and has nothing to do with the star’s former club, said Yegros.

The former player is prevented from receiving visitors in the hotel under Paraguay’s protocols against the coronavirus, which officially has 161 infections to date, with eight deaths.

Ronaldinho’s Brazilian lawyer Sergio Queiroz said there are no legal grounds for his detention.

“It’s illegal, abusive,” he said. “They did not know that the documents they had were illegal.”

“Leave Ronaldinho alone,” said former Argentine World Cup winner Jorge Valdano, now a coach in Spain.

“The only place Ronaldinho behaved like a troublemaker was on the pitch,” he told a
Madrid newspaper.