• It is alleged that he concealed income from the sale of image rights
• Real Madrid and Portugal forward hides from 200 journalists outside court
In a rare attack of camera-shyness, Cristiano Ronaldo hid from the 200 journalists waiting outside the Madrid court where he is under investigation for tax evasion and then, having promised to make a statement, snuck back out without a word.
The Real Madrid and Portugal forward spent 90 minutes in court being questioned by judge Mónica Ferrer Gómez over allegations that between 2011 and 2014 he defrauded the Spanish treasury of €14.7m in taxes.
It is alleged that he concealed income from the sale of image rights through a financial structure that diverted the money via Ireland to a tax haven in the British Virgin Islands.
He disappointed waiting media and fans when he arrived at court via the back door. However, he said he would speak to the media after the hearing, and journalists from some 20 countries waited for two hours in the 30C heat for him to appear.
But instead they were presented with his media representative Iñaki Torres, who was roundly booed when he announced that Ronaldo had already left for home after the preliminary hearing, which was held in camera. “He didn’t change his mind,” Torres said. “This was always an alternative.”
According to his lawyers, Ronaldo “didn’t break any laws, all he did was follow criteria that the tax inspectors don’t like”. It is not a case of fraud, they insist, but of a difference of opinion.
However, the anti-corruption judges claim that Ronaldo used three shell companies to conceal part of his income.
The allegations have parallels with the case against his great rival Leo Messi, who last year was found guilty of tax fraud to the tune of €4.1m. He was fined €2m and was sentenced to 21 months prison, reduced on appeal to 15 months. Under Spanish law, sentences of less than two years can be served on probation.
During the trial Messi said he signed whatever his father, who is also his representative, asked him to, while his father claimed he had acted on what he believed was good advice. However, in such cases ignorance is not a valid defence.
At this stage Ronaldo is only under investigation but if, after Monday’s hearing, the judge believes there is a case to answer, he will face formal charges of tax evasion.
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