Madrid megastar denies owing millions on unreported income
MADRID — Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo denied hiding millions of dollars in income at a court hearing near the Spanish capital on Monday, where he was charged with tax evasion.
The Portuguese — the world’s highest paid athlete, according to Forbes magazine — is the latest soccer star to fall foul of Spain’s taxman.
He follows in the footsteps of his archrival, Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, who was found guilty of the same offense last year.
“I have never hidden anything, nor have I had the intention of evading taxes,” Ronaldo, 32, told the court, according to a statement from his representatives, Gestifute.
“I always voluntarily file my tax returns because I think we all must file a return and pay taxes according to our income. Those that know me, know what I ask my advisers: that they have everything up to date and properly paid, because I don’t want problems.”
Accused of having evaded $17.3 million in tax, he entered and left the court in Pozuelo de Alarcon, a wealthy suburb of Madrid where he lives, via an underground garage to avoid the media.
Prosecutors 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”.
The four-time Ballon d’Or winner is accused of evading tax via a shell company based in the British Virgin Islands and another in Ireland, which has a low corporate tax rate.
In addition, prosecutors say he only declared $13.6 million of income from 2011 to 2014, having really earned $51 million.
They also accuse him of “voluntarily” refusing to include $34 million in income linked to the sale of his image rights to a Spanish company.
Ronaldo told the court he did not create a “special structure” to manage his image rights when he moved to Real in 2009 but simply maintained the one set up in 2004 while he was at Manchester United “long before I thought of coming to Spain”.
This structure had been deemed “legal and legitimate” by the British tax office.
When news of the charges initially broke, Real’s all-time top scorer reportedly threatened to leave Spain over the case.
He has since decided to stay on, according to Real coach Zinedine Zidane, although it appeared his suitors simply could not afford Ronaldo. Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho, for one, described a potential Ronaldo return to Old Trafford as “mission impossible”.
If he were put on trial and found guilty, Ronaldo would risk “a fine of at least $33 million” and could be jailed for three and a half years, the Gestha union of experts at Spain’s Inland Revenue has said.
Since extending his con- tract last year until 2021, Ronaldo is the highest paid sports star in the world with $93 million earned in 20162017, according to Forbes.
Ronaldo is not the only soccer star 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 a fine of $2.4 million fine last year for tax fraud.
His prison sentence has since been replaced by another fine of $2.09 million.
Barcelona’s Argentine defender Javier Mascherano 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 Mourinho, who coached the club from 2010 to 2013, have all been accused of tax fraud.
All are clients of superagent Jorge Mendes, who was also questioned and put under official investigation last month by a Spanish court investigating alleged tax evasion by Monaco’s former Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao, another player in his stable.