After months of uncertainty, Cristiano Ronaldo arrived in court on Monday to face charges for tax evasion.
The Real Madrid star has been accused of defrauding Spanish tax authorities out of €14.7 million (£13m/$16.4m) in earnings from image rights. Like Lionel Messi before him, the 32-year-old could face a prison sentence and heavy fines if found guilty, though he strongly denies the allegations.
The legal troubles led to claims Ronaldo wants to leave Madrid this summer, but speculation has died down and the issue is expected to be resolved as the case begins.
The former Manchester United forward arrived at court around 11am on Monday, July 31 for the first day of his hearing.
At this stage, it is not a full trial and takes place behind closed doors.
Ronaldo discussed the charges in court for 90 minutes in Spanish, despite being offered the chance to speak Portuguese through a translator.
Although he paid to install a stage with lights and sound equipment to speak to the media outside the building afterwards, Ronaldo stayed silent and made a quick exit while his lawyer spoke on his behalf.
“Everything is in order, he is on his way home,” he said.
Gestifute, the company owned by his agent Jorge Mendes, will release a statement this afternoon.
Madrid’s criminal prosecution system have accused the star of evading €14.7m in payments
The prosecutor’s office filed a complaint on June 12, stating he made a “voluntary and conscious” breach of his obligations in Spain by creating a business structure to conceal his earnings between 2011 and 2014:
2011 – €1,393,906.83
2012 – €1,665,304.09
2013 – €3,201,266.93
2014 – €8,508,419.55
Ronaldo strenuously denies the claims and Gestifute backed him up.
Gestifute said the company, Tollin, does not amount to an offshore structure for evading taxes and was established in 2004 when Ronaldo signed for United.
“The public prosecutor has filed today a complaint against Cristiano Ronaldo and not a claim, which implies a substantial change,” the statement read.
“The public prosecutor understands that CR [Ronaldo] is participating in an offshore structure, similar to that of other players, when most of the revenues were obtained directly by the player, without the participation of any of his societies.
“The rest of his revenues were paid to the player and declared in Spain according to the terms that the player’s advisors considered applicable.
“There is no offshore structure for evading taxes. Tollin is 100 per cent owned by Cristiano Ronaldo since its foundation in 2004. It was founded when the player arrived at Manchester United, six years before his signing for Real Madrid, and the net profits were €12,753,685,28.”
If found guilty, the Portuguese forward is likely to face a hefty fine (as Messi did) to pay back all of the monies he owes and more, plus there is the possibility of a prison sentence.
The likelihood of him seeing a jail cell seems unlikely, as he could be handed a suspended term like Messi if it is less than two years.
As the complaint Ronaldo is facing is much greater than Messi’s, there have been suggestions he faces as much as seven years behind bars. However, if convicted as a first-time offender on a non-violent crime, he would likely end up with a similar punishment.
The legal troubles have caused a large rift between Ronaldo and Madrid.
Not long after the prosecutor’s office submitted their complaint, reports emerged that Ronaldo wanted to leave the capital club, with a move to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United emerging.
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The Euro 2016 winner was reportedly unhappy that Madrid failed to back him up adequately as the allegations emerged, but the disappointment went both ways as Ronaldo refused to rule out his desire to leave .
Speculation has since died down, as United coach Jose Mourinho distanced his side from making a bid, while PSG seem to have switched their sights to Alexis Sanchez and Neymar.
Ronaldo has since suggested he will stay at Madrid and is aiming for more silverware after another Champions League-winning campaign, but there could be more disruptions ahead as the case begins.