Ronaldo accused of $16.5 M tax evasion
Spanish prosecutors say Real Madrid's Portuguese star ‘consciously’ hid millions in income from image rights
Spanish prosecutors officially accused Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese star of the Real Madrid football team, of defrauding the Spanish treasury of more than €14.7 million ($16.5 million) in taxes between 2011 and 2014, they announced in a statement on Tuesday.
Ronaldo, the four-time Ballon d'Or winner, is accused of using "business structures" in Ireland and the British Virgin Islands to hide nearly €150 million ($168 million) in income he earned through selling the rights to his image.
The 32-year-old is the highest paid athlete in the world, according to Forbes. Last year he secured a contract with Real Madrid for more than $50 million per year for the next four years and scored a lifetime deal with Nike worth more than $1 billion.
According to the statement, Ronaldo took advantage of what is known as "the Beckham law" in Spain, which allows foreign athletes to pay an income tax rate of 24 percent, rather than the 48 percent applied to Spanish nationals.
Yet prosecutors insist Ronaldo's alleged offshore banking was a "voluntary" and "conscious" way to avoid paying taxes in Spain.
Ronaldo is not the first Spanish football player to be hit with tax fraud accusations. Last year Ronaldo's rival, Lionel Messi from the Barcelona football team, was found guilty of defrauding Spain of €4.1 million ($4.5 million) in taxes and was handed a fine and 21-month prison sentence.
However, Messi did not serve time behind bars, due to the Spanish legal convention which allows first-time, non-violent offenders with a less than two-year conviction to remain free.
Ronaldo is yet to make a public statement but denied allegations of massive tax fraud in December, after leaked documents suggested that he used offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes.