The world’s highest paid athlete, Cristiano Ronaldo, has been accused of tax evasion. The Real Madrid super star reeled in $93 million last year, putting him ahead of basketball giant LeBron James and La Liga rival, Lionel Messi.
The four time Ballon d’or winner – the crown of the soccer world – has been been accused of failing to pay 14.7 million euros ($16.5 million US) in taxes. He is alleged to have avoided paying taxes by funneling income related to image rights (meaning his likeness, the very thing that Ronaldo capitalizes on) through a series of offshore companies. If that arrangement sounds vaguely familiar, it is: the use of separate entities to hide income tied to image rights is the basis of accusations against Messi – ditto for fellow soccer stars Samuel Eto’o and Neymar.
Ronaldo had appeared immune to the tax allegations which have affected a number of famous soccer players, including Lionel Messi, who was found guilty of tax evasion last year (his sentence was upheld this year).
However, last year, suspicions against Ronaldo were raised after the so-called “Football Leaks” – think Panama Papers with a hyper-focus on soccer players – suggested that Ronaldo had underreported his income. At the time, Real Madrid issued a stern statement in defense of their star player, saying:
In view of the stories published over recent days and in consideration of the certificate issued by the Spanish Tax Agency which confirms that our player Cristiano Ronaldo is up to date with all of his tax obligations, Real Madrid C. F. call for the utmost respect to be shown towards Cristiano Ronaldo, whose conduct has been absolutely exemplary throughout all of his time at our club.
According to El Pais, Spanish authorities claim that Ronaldo understated his revenue between 2011 and 2013. The amount reported was 11.5 million euros ($12.87 million US), though authorities allege that he should have reported 43 million euros ($48.15 million US). Because of the amounts involved, Ronaldo could be sentenced to prison if he is convicted of the charges.
Ronaldo’s management team, Gestitute, issued a statement, saying that “In the case of Cristiano Ronaldo, no income was hidden at all, since the taxpayer settled and paid taxes at the time he collected the income (within the period legally established and previous to any tax inspection).” The company also said, “In conclusion: the declared amount can be discussed, but it is clear that the football player did not try to evade taxes.”
The soccer star has remained largely quiet in response to the allegations since the “Football Leaks” first broke. However, he did say in 2016, “There are a lot of innocent people in jail and I feel a bit like that.” He added, “You know you didn’t do anything wrong, and they say you did something wrong.”