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Ronaldo avoids jail but hit with fine for tax fraud

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Cristiano Ronaldo laughs as he leaves after attending a court hearing for tax evasion in Madrid on Tuesday. Ronaldo was given a hefty fine after a deal to settle claims he hid income generated from image rights. OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP

Ronaldo avoids jail but hit with fine for tax fraud

JUVENTUS star Cristiano Ronaldo avoided jail on Tuesday but was ordered by a Spanish court to pay €3.57 million ($4.1 million) for committing tax fraud when at Real Madrid, part of a broader €18.8 million payout.

Sporting sunglasses and a smile, accompanied by his girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez, Ronaldo arrived at the court in northeastern Madrid for a brief hearing.

He was handed a two-year jail sentence immediately reduced to a fine of €365,000 and another penalty of €3.2 million, according to the sentence.

Accused of having avoided paying €5.7 million in taxes due on his image rights between 2011 and 2014, Ronaldo has already paid the taxman €6.7 million for what he owed plus interest, the sentence read.

That – plus the court fine – comes to more than €10 million.

In June, the player’s lawyers and Spain’s taxman came to an agreement that Ronaldo would pay a grand total of €18.8 million.

That amount was not mentioned in the sentence but a source at the court, who refused to be named, said Ronaldo would have to pay €18.8 million in total.

It is unclear whether the remaining amount is a separate administrative fine.

“I am very well,” the five-time Ballon d’Or winner told the crowd of reporters gathered outside of the court as he left the hearing. He signed a few autographs before leaving in a black van.

The court refused the player’s request to appear by video or to enter the building by car to avoid the spotlight.

Ronaldo, who last year joined Italian champions Juventus, smiled broadly as he arrived at the court dressed in black trousers, a black turtleneck and dark sunglasses, holding hands with Rodriguez.

Police officers escorted him.

He had played for Juventus on Monday night, missing a penalty as the Italian league leaders eased past bottom club Chievo 3-0.

Offshore companies

Madrid prosecutors opened an investigation into Ronaldo in June 2017 and he was questioned in July that same year.

“I have never hidden anything, nor have I had the intention of evading taxes,” he told the court then, according to a statement from the sports agency which represents him, Gestifute.

Prosecutors accused Ronaldo of having used companies in low-tax foreign jurisdictions – notably the British Virgin Islands and Ireland – to avoid paying the tax due in Spain on payments for his image rights between 2011 and 2014.

His lawyers argued there had been a difference in interpretation of what was and was not taxable in Spain, and deny any deliberate attempt to evade tax. But under the deal between Spain’s tax authorities and his lawyers, Ronaldo pleaded guilty to four counts of tax fraud.

Ronaldo is one of several footballers to have fallen foul of Spain’s tax authorities in recent years.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, once Ronaldo’s big La Liga rival, paid a €2 million fine in 2016 in his own tax wrangle and received a 21-month jail term.

The prison sentence was later reduced to a further fine of €252,000, equivalent to €400 per day of the original term.

Alonso faces trial

Ronaldo’s former Real Madrid team-mate Xabi Alonso appeared at the same Madrid court on Tuesday, for the first time, on a separate tax evasion charge.

Public prosecutors are seeking a five-year jail sentence and a fine of €4 million.

The trial was suspended while the court considers whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case.

“I never hid anything, I have to defend myself,” Alonso, 37, told reporters as he left the court.

Ronaldo is also facing accusations in the US where a former American model accused him of raping her in Las Vegas in 2009.

Police in the US city recently asked Italian authorities for a DNA sample from the footballer. Ronaldo has always denied the accusations.

In a New Year’s Eve interview with Portuguese sports daily Record, he said he had a “calm conscience” and was “confident that everything will very soon be clarified”.

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