Real Madrid superstar has been charged with tax evasion in Spain, accused of evading €14.7 million in unpaid taxes.
Cristiano Ronaldo 'never hid anything' after denying tax fraud at court hearing
Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo denied hiding millions of euros in income at a court hearing near Madrid on Monday where he was charged with tax evasion, the latest footballer star to fall foul of Spain's taxman.
The Portuguese - the world's highest paid sportsman according to Forbes magazine - follows in the steps of his rival, Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, who was found guilty of the same offence 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 the sports agency which represents him, 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 advisors: that they have everything up to date and properly paid, because I don't want problems."
Accused of having evaded €14.7 million (Dh63.7m) 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".
Prosecutors accuse the four-time world player of the year of evading tax via a shell company based in the British Virgin Islands and another in Ireland, known for low corporate tax rates.
In addition, they say the Real Madrid striker only declared €11.5m of Spanish-related income from 2011 to 2014, while what he really earned during that time was close to €43m.
They also accuse him of "voluntarily" refusing to include €28.4m in income linked to the sale of his image rights for the 2015 to 2020 period to a Spanish company.
Ronaldo told the court he did not create a "special structure" to manage his image rights when he moved to Madrid 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.
The affair has taken its toll on Ronaldo. According to press reports, Madrid's all-time top goalscorer, threatened to leave Spain over the affair, giving supporters a fright. He has since decided to stay on, according to Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane.
If he were put on trial and found guilty, Ronaldo would risk "a fine of at least €28m" and could potentially be jailed for three-and-a-half years, the Gestha union of experts at Spain's Inland Revenue has said.
Since extending his contract last November until 2021, Ronaldo is the highest paid sports star in the world with $93m (Dh341.6m) earned in 2016-2017, according to Forbes.
Ronaldo is not the only footballer 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 €2.09m fine last year for tax fraud. His prison sentence has since been replaced by another fine of €252,000, which corresponds to €400 for each day of jail.
Barcelona's Argentine defender Javier Mascherano, meanwhile, 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.
Madrid have not been spared either. Apart from Ronaldo, former player Angel di Maria, Portuguese defender Fabio Coentrao and Jose Mourinho, who managed the club from 2010 to 2013, have all been accused of tax fraud.
All are clients of super-agent Jorge Mendes, who was also questioned and put under official investigation last month by a Spanish court investigating alleged tax evasion by Monaco striker Radamel Falcao, another footballer in his stable.
* Agence France-Presse