The current world footballer of the year Cristiano Ronaldo has appeared today at a Spanish court where he was facing allegations he evaded millions in tax.
Prosecutors have accused Ronaldo, who is said to be the world’s highest paid athlete, of evading €14.7m (US$17.3m) in tax, as reported.
If the case is sent to trial and he is found guilty, the Portuguese forward could face a fine of “at least €28m” and even a potential prison sentence of three-and-a-half years, the Gestha union of experts at Spain’s Inland Revenue has said.
The Real Madrid star, aged 32, was expected to make a statement to the media after the pre-trial hearing, held in Madrid today, but left without saying a word.
Ronaldo, 32, is one of a growing number of footballers and managers to be pursued by tax authorities in Spain and in the UK, including, as reported, current Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho. Mourinho has declared his innocence with his management company Gestifute Media also issuing a press release with his tax return attached.
The Spanish tax authorities have been particularly aggressive with the football world over tax evasion. Barcelona’s Argentinan star Lionel Messi was handed a 21-month prison sentence after being found guilty last year, of the same charge as Ronaldo faces.
Earlier this month, the court ruled that Messi could pay €252,000 in place of jail time. It is often the case that first time criminal offenders can pay a fine instead of doing jail time.
Messi was accused of evading €4.1m in tax, €10.6m less than Ronaldo, when he was found guilty last year. Other footballers like current Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez have admitted tax evasion [as reported, he admitted €1m tax evasion, while he was playing in Spain with Barcelona] and paid fines and back tax to the Spanish authorities.
And last week Brazil and Barcelona star Neymar was acquitted of tax evasion charges after a long-running battle.
According to various reports, Ronaldo spent an hour-and-a-half giving evidence to judges at a court in the Madrid suburb of Pozuelo de Alarcón earlier today.
Chorus of boos
BBC Sport’s Richard Conway, who was at the courts, said Ronaldo had been expected to strike a “defiant tone”, but instead decided to go straight home, earning him a chorus of boos from the gathered press.
The media had gathered on the court steps in front of a lectern and speakers, set up by Real Madrid in anticipation of a speech by the footballer. However, Ronaldo avoided journalists by arriving and leaving via an underground garage, the BBC report said.
According to the Spanish prosecutors, Ronaldo allegedly took “advantage of a company structure created in 2010 to hide income generated in Spain from his image rights from tax authorities”, which was a “voluntary and conscious breach of his fiscal obligations in Spain”.
Ronaldo has said that due to what he believes to be unfair treatment by the Spanish authorities he will lead the country. His management has also denied the tax evasion allegations. Ronaldo previously said that he will never play football in Spain again, sparking reports that he might move back to former club Manchester United.