Football

Published on June 15th, 2017 | by Paco Polit

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Cristiano Ronaldo scores own goal over tax evasion issues

Cristiano Ronaldo is the latest in a long line of footballers who have ended up in legal hot water over tax evasion. And the Portuguese won’t be the last says Paco Polit

Life seemed good for Cristiano Ronaldo. Life seemed great, actually. Just take a peek at the last month: he won yet another Champions League trophy, contributing to Real Madrid’s win over Juventus with two goals, and last week he fathered twins via a surrogate mother in the US. Things looked brighter than ever for the 32-year old striker, who is bound to pick up another Ballon d’Or next December.

However, last Tuesday’s developments have cast a huge shadow over his current happiness. Spanish Twitter feeds and sports TV shows were set on fire once it became known that Cristiano Ronaldo had been accused of defrauding Spanish tax authorities out of 14.7 million euros. Prosecutors in Madrid filed a complaint to a court accusing the player of a “voluntary” and “conscious” breach of his tax obligations. Allegedly, Ronaldo had created a “business structure” in 2010 to conceal undisclosed earnings from image rights between 2011 and 2014.

Talk about raining on Ronaldo’s proverbial parade.

It’s become quite of a trend lately, as many famous football stars are having their fair share of trouble with Spanish justice authorities after some dubious attempts at regularizing their tax records. Whereas Cristiano is facing a prosecution process, others have already been put on trial and found guilty: Javier Mascherano was sentenced to jail for one year after defrauding 1.5 million euros, and Neymar and FC Barcelona had to pay a 5.5 million euros fine last December for two tax crimes.

However, Leo Messi’s trial has arguably been the biggest of the lot. The authorities found proof that the Argentinian star (who insisted on being innocent and testified that he “always trusted” his father regarding money issues) had defrauded a cool 4.1 million euros related to his image rights between the years 2007 and 2009.  He was found guilty and sentenced to a 21-month period in prison, although the legal system in Spain will prevent him from placing a foot behind bars.

Watching players standing in front of the judge is becoming as common as seeing them scoring in big games. Ricardo Carvalho, Ángel di María, Fabio Coentrao and Radamel Falcao are some of the big names that are also being closely monitored by the authorities. Most of them share a common denominator (super-agent Jorge Mendes) and the same precedents: taking advice from their trusted consultants.

These players would set up societies in tax havens abroad where they took advantage of lower tax conditions when paying for their image rights’ income. We’re talking about millions of euros here, as the Spanish tax rates sometimes slash in half the net income for a football player.

Was it cheeky? No doubt about it. Was it legal? Spanish authorities don’t think so.

With Cristiano in the spotlight, we must also highlight the impressive delicacy and care taken by several outlets in not mentioning Real Madrid as the team where Cristiano currently plays, nor using in their news pieces pictures of the Portuguese star wearing the Los Blancos shirt. Initially, many football fans in Spain claimed foul play in that sense as Messi, Neymar and Mascherano were all ‘burdened’ with their status as Barça players in every headline.

And they may have been on to something. There seems to be a very sinister reason behind all the fuss: according to El Confidencial, Real Madrid’s PR machine went full throttle in the hours immediately after the news broke, demanding sympathetic media to omit any reference to Real Madrid (no brand, no name, no playing kit in pictures) in their stories.

The debate has heated up and controversy runs wild. It’s quite understandable: Cristiano, Messi, Neymar and many others can get away with stuff that would send mere mortals straight to prison. And privileges never seem to stop: super agent Jorge Mendes himself is being investigated for tax evasion in Spain, and even La Liga’s own Javier Tebas appears to be in trouble, as the latest development is that the president is also under investigation by authorities for having defrauded some 5 million euros.

The bar set by the Spanish Justice system always comes down hard on the everyman, whereas football superstars and the ‘big cheeses’ in the business seem to have believed they had a free pass on several issues. Modern football has its fair share of perks, right?

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About the Author

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Paco Polit is a Valencia-based journalist with over ten years experience reporting La Liga, covering both Valencia CF and Levante’s news, signings, ups and downs. Madrid and Barcelona are huge, indeed, but the Spanish La Liga is much, much more: regarded as the top football competition in the world, he enjoys explaining why to every reader from abroad.



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