Ex-Barcelona star Ronaldinho had BBQ with tearful inmates before release - sources

Inmates were in tears as they held a barbecue to say goodbye to Ronaldinho this week after the former Brazil star was placed on house arrest following 32 days in a Paraguayan prison, sources have told ESPN.

Ronaldinho and his brother Roberto Assis, who is also his business manager, were incarcerated in Paraguay since March 6 for attempting to enter the country with falsified passports, even though residents of Brazil do not need passports to enter their landlocked neighbour.

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They had been denied bail three times previously but on Tuesday a judge granted them house arrest in exchange for a bail payment of $1.6 million.

"It's a significant bail in cash to guarantee they will not flee," judge Gustavo Amarilla said.

The 2002 World Cup winner will be placed under police custody at a four-star hotel in the Paraguayan capital, Asuncion. A date for a new trial has not yet been set because of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision was relayed via a video call due to the health crisis and they will be allowed to receive visits in the hotel. Sources told ESPN they have already arranged for their mother to come and see them as soon as the borders re-open.

Once the news reached the inmates at the detention unit in Asuncion, sources have explained how they hastily arranged a goodbye barbecue for Ronaldinho and his brother.

The former Barcelona forward had become a popular figure at the facility. Sources told ESPN he was "loved" by his fellow prisoners at the jail, where daily activities included playing football with the inmates and the employees and attending a carpentry course.

He has promised to return to visit them before he heads back to Brazil, although it is unclear when that will be possible. The probe into the falsified passports has expanded into an investigation into possible money laundering.

According to the prosecution, at the centre of the operation is Dalia Lopez, the businesswoman who arranged Ronaldinho's visit and who met him on arrival at the airport in Asuncion before he was detained.

A source familiar with the case told Reuters in March that the "hypothesis is that the false documents used by the brothers were eventually going to be used for some commercial means or investments that were not legal."

As part of the wider investigation, Ronaldinho and his brother had their mobile phones confiscated so that investigators could review files and messages on the phones. The phones were returned last week.

The lawyer who represents the brothers has called their detention "arbitrary, abusive and illegal" and sources close to Ronaldinho have said he has been caught up in a "political game" and remain hopeful that he and his brother will soon be allowed to return home to Brazil.