Spanish prosecutors accuse Cristiano Ronaldo of $16.5 million tax fraud

A Spanish prosecutor has accused Real Madrid soccer standout Cristiano Ronaldo of using a shell company in the Virgin Islands to defraud Spain’s tax office of 14.8 million euros ($16.5 million) in unpaid taxes from 2011 to 2014.

The Portuguese-born star defrauded the tax authorities of 1.4 million euros in 2011, 1.7 million euros in 2012, 3.2 million euros in 2013 and 8.5 million euros in 2014, prosecutors allege. They say that in 2010, Ronaldo set up a company to manage his image rights in the British Virgin Islands but then transferred those rights to a second company in Ireland, solely for the purpose of creating a “screen” to confuse Spanish tax authorities.

Last year, Barcelona legend Lionel Messi and his father were found guilty of similar tax-fraud charges in Spain, each of them receiving 21-month prison sentences that were not served because the country suspends the sentences of first-time offenders if the sentence is for less than two years. The court found Messi had funneled income earned from his image rights through countries such as Uruguay, Switzerland and Belize, evading more than 4 million euros in taxes from 2007 to 2009. The Argentine legend paid 5.1 million euros in back taxes in 2013, and he and his father also were fined 1.7 million and 1.4 million euros in fines after their guilty verdicts.

In his announcement Tuesday, the Spanish prosecutor said Messi’s case was a precedent for the charges filed against Ronaldo.

According to Forbes, Ronaldo is the world’s highest-paid athlete, with $58 million in salary and $35 million in endorsements in 2017. He led Real Madrid to the Spanish league championship this year and to a successful defense of their Champions League title. Last year, he helped Portugal win its first European championship.

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Last month, the Spanish tax authorities announced Ronaldo had adjusted his tax declarations and paid an extra 6 million euros in 2014.

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