Ronaldo testifies in $17M Spanish tax-fraud trial
World's highest-paid athlete insists he is innocent of fraud charges
Cristiano Ronaldo appeared in a courtroom outside Madrid on Wednesday, and although unseen by media, the world-famous footballer testified for around 90 minutes in his multi-million-dollar tax-fraud trial.
"I've never hidden anything, and I've never had the intention to evade taxes," said Ronaldo during the closed trial, according to a statement issued later by his PR company, Estudio de Comunicacion.
Despite the expectation of journalists from nearly 200 media outlets waiting outside, Ronaldo entered the courthouse in a black van with tinted windows and left, unseen, without speaking to the media.
The Portuguese star is accused of defrauding the Spanish treasury of more than €14.7 million ($17.2 million) in taxes between 2011 and 2014.
Prosecutors allege he used offshore business structures in Ireland and the British Virgin Islands to hide nearly €150 million ($175 million) in income he earned through selling the rights to his image, according to an official court statement.
According to his statement, Ronaldo argued he had held the business structures while playing for Manchester United and before coming to Madrid, insisting they were common and deemed legal by the British authorities.
Ronaldo joins a long list of players and coaches related to the Spanish football league who have been accused of dodging taxes including Jose Mourinho, former coach of Real Madrid.
Last year Ronaldo's footballing rival, Lionel Messi, was found guilty of evading more than €4.1 million ($4.8 million) and handed a fine and a 21-month prison sentence. However, he did not spend time behind bars due to a Spanish legal convention that tends to allow first time, non-violent offenders with less than a two-year conviction, to remain free.
Ronaldo, however, who is accused of evading more than three times the amount involving Messi, faces a real threat of prison and a hefty fine.
"Now is time to let the justice system work. I believe in justice and I hope that in this case too, there will be a fair decision," said Ronaldo, according to the press release.
In it, the footballer added he would not make any further declarations to the press until there is a final decision.
According to Forbes, the 32-year-old is the highest paid athlete in the world, earning more than $50 million per year with Real Madrid plus millions more in endorsements.