Football megastar Cristiano Ronaldo appeared in court near Madrid on Monday accused of evading millions of euros in taxes, the latest player to fall foul of Spain’s taxman.
The 32-year-old entered the court in Pozuelo de Alarcon, a wealthy suburb of Madrid where he lives, in a car with tainted windows via an underground garage to avoid the glare of the dozens of cameras gathered outside.
The player is expected to speak to the press after his court hearing. A podium was set up outside the courthouse behind metal barriers.
The Portuguese star — the world’s highest paid athlete according to Forbes magazine — follows in the steps of his arch-rival, Barcelona forward and Argentina star Lionel Messi, who was found guilty of the same offence last year.
Other footballers have also recently run into trouble with Spain’s taxman, some of them already convicted and others under investigation.
Prosecutors accuse Ronaldo of having evaded 14.7 million euros ($17.3 million) in tax.
They allege he took “advantage of a company structure created in 2010 to hide income generated in Spain from his image rights from tax authorities”.
They say this was a “voluntary and conscious breach of his fiscal obligations in Spain”.
Prosecutors accuse the four-time world player of the year of evading tax via a shell company based in the British Virgin Islands and another in Ireland, known for low corporate tax rates.
In addition, they say the Real Madrid striker only declared 11.5 million euros of Spanish-related income from 2011 to 2014, while what he really earned during that time was close to 43 million euros.
And finally, they accuse him of “voluntarily” refusing to include 28.4 million euros in income linked to the sale of his image rights for the 2015 to 2020 period to a Spanish company.
Ronaldo is expected to declare himself not guilty during his closed door court appearance. He has defended himself, saying his “conscience is clear”.
His agent’s company Gestifute has also denied any “fiscal set-up” and said “the player didn’t hide anything”.
But the allegations still took their toll on the man with the “CR7” brand. According to press reports, Real’s all-time top goalscorer, threatened to leave Spain over the affair, giving supporters a fright.
He has since hinted he will stay on, telling Spanish sports daily Marca that he would like to continue to win trophies for Real.
If he were put on trial and found guilty, Ronaldo would risk “a fine of at least 28 million” euros and could potentially be jailed for three-and-a-half years, the Gestha union of experts at Spain’s Inland Revenue has said.
Since extending his contract last November until 2021, Ronaldo is the highest paid sports star in the world with $93 million earned in 2016-2017, according to Forbes.
Ronaldo is not the only footballer to fall foul of authorities in Spain, which is only just recovering from a damaging economic crisis that saw countless people lose their jobs and inequalities rise.
Messi was sentenced to a 21-month jail sentence and 2.09-million-euro fine last year for tax fraud.
His prison sentence has since been replaced by another fine of 252,000 euros, which corresponds to 400 euros for each day of jail.
Barcelona’s Argentine defender Javier Mascherano, meanwhile, agreed a one-year suspended sentence with authorities for tax fraud last year.
Brazil star Neymar, another Barcelona forward, and his parents are also due to stand trial for alleged corruption over his transfer from Santos in 2013.
Real have not been spared either.
Apart from Ronaldo, former player Angel di Maria, Portuguese defender Fabio Coentrao and Jose Mourinho, who coached the club from 2010 to 2013, have all been accused of tax fraud.
All are clients of super-agent Jorge Mendes, who was also questioned and put under official investigation last month by a Spanish court investigating alleged tax evasion by Monaco striker Radamel Falcao, another footballer in his stable.
Cristiano Ronaldo will make a timely return to Real Madrid training ahead of the club’s European Super Cup clash with Manchester United in Macedonia next month, according to Marca.
The Los Blancos club legend, who was initially due back from his summer break on Friday July 28 – 30 days after he played his last match for Portugal in the Confederations Cup – was reportedly given more time off ahead of his tax evasion court case next week (Monday July 31).
Ronaldo missed Real’s tour of the USA and instead took part in a personal, promotional tour of China.
Nevertheless, the 32-year-old is all set to make his comeback in time for Real’s key fixtures, starting with United on August 8th and then the double-header against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup (first leg, Nou Camp, August 13th; second leg, Bernabeu, August 16th).
Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane insisted he is “not bothered” by Saturday night’s friendly defeat to their LaLiga arch-rivals Barcelona in Miami.
The Spanish and European champions went two goals down inside seven minutes thanks to Lionel Messi and Ivan Rakitic, before Mateo Kovacic and Marco Asensio forced parity heading into half-time.
Gerard Pique grabbed Barca’s clincher five minutes after the restart, however, leaving Real winless after three International Champions Cup games.
Zidane, whose team face the Catalans again in the Supercopa de Espana in two weeks’ time, can now turn his thoughts to the UEFA Super Cup meeting with Manchester United in Skopje.
“This is pre-season and I’m sure that the results we’ve achieved weren’t what we were expecting, but this doesn’t alter anything,” the Frenchman told realmadrid.com.
“The important thing is to be ready for August 8. I saw some good things out there, but also some things I didn’t like.
“We’ve got to be patient, work hard and be ready for the UEFA Super Cup.
“I’m not bothered by the defeat. It always hurts, we don’t like to lose but that’s not the most important thing. We need to improve and change a few things.”
Barca head coach Ernesto Valverde, who succeeded Luis Enrique this summer, is keen to keep hold of the in-demand Neymar.
The Brazilian striker has been linked with a potential 222 million euro switch to Paris St Germain, a deal which would see him become the most expensive player in the world.
Valverde expects the 25-year-old to stick around and contribute at the Nou Camp, however.
Quoted in Marca, he said: “I try to talk about what is happening right now. Neymar is here with us, we count on him and we think that he should help us out this year.”
He felt the friendly triumph acted as a warm-up for the two-legged Supercopa showdown, which starts on August 13.
After full-time at the Hard Rock Stadium, the former Athletic Bilbao manager told fcbarcelona.es: “Those matches will be different – there is no such thing as a friendly against Real.
“My team started the game very well and I was happy with how they dominated proceedings.
“We had many chances to extend the scoreline further.
“It was an opportunity to see how great these players are, especially Messi who was extraordinary.”