Madrid megas­tar de­nies owing mil­lions on un­re­ported in­come

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

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.

‘Le­git­i­mate’

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.

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