Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez and other football stars who have been charged for tax fraud in Europe

Cristiano Ronaldo is on top of his game at the moment, having netted four goals from two games already, including a hat-trick against Spain in the opener that helped Portugal secure a 3-3 draw.

However, the build-up to the tournament wasn't exactly smooth for him, as he was slapped with a prison sentence along with a fine of $21.8 million for tax evasion. The news broke on 15 June, the day Portugal were slated to face Spain in the tournament opener.

 Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez and other football stars who have been charged for tax fraud in Europe

File image of Cristiano Ronaldo. AFP

The Real Madrid star is one of the highest-paid athletes in the world as well as one of the most popular. However, like some of his illustrious colleagues, Ronaldo might not have been quite up to the mark when it came to keeping a tab on his income and paying taxes on time. Barcelona star and Ronaldo's arch-rival Lionel Messi has found himself in the dock as well, as has Messi's former teammates Alexis Sanchez and Neymar.

A lot of the football stars who end up on the wrong side of the law as far as paying their taxes is concerned are grilled by European authorities, with Spanish prosecutors charging La Liga stars making headlines more often than not. Here's a detailed look at some of those cases, as well as the reactions to the cases back home:

Cristiano Ronaldo:

A Spanish state prosecutor had in 2017 accused Ronaldo of four counts of tax fraud from 2011-14 worth €14.7 million ($16.5 million). The prosecutor accused Ronaldo of having used shell companies outside Spain to hide income made from image rights. The accusation does not involve his salary from Real Madrid.

Ronaldo denied any wrongdoing when questioned by a judge in July 2017.

However, it was reported on Friday, that Ronaldo was ready to admit to four counts of tax fraud that would carry a prison sentence of two years. Prison sentences not over two years in Spain are often suspended for first-time offenders.

"Ronaldo chega a acordo com o fisco Espanhol" (Ronaldo agrees with the Spanish tax authorities) ran the headline in a report on Lisbon-based sports tabloid A Bola, as the press back in Ronaldo's home nation warmed up to the news of their star footballer getting handed the sentence.

Lionel Messi:

The Barcelona star and his father Jorge were found guilty by a Catalan court in 2016 of three counts of tax fraud to the tune of €4.1 million ($4.68 million) over income earned from image rights.

The father also had his 15-month sentence exchanged for a fine of 180,000 euros.

However, neither Messi or his father would have served time in jail following the original ruling as defendants without a previous conviction are permitted to serve any sentence of under two years on probation.

A court statement had said Messi “unequivocally understood his obligation to pay tax on income obtained from exploiting his image rights... therefore it is not logical that he should ignore his duty to pay tax on them”.

Radamel Falcao:

A Spanish court had handed former AS Monaco's Colombian striker Radamel Falcao a €9 million ($10.5m) tax fine and a suspended prison sentence on 23 May.

Falcao, a former Atletico Madrid player, had already paid €8.2 million to the court last July when he was charged with owing a €7.4 million fine.

The 16-month sentence was commuted to a €96,000 fine.

The player was found guilty of setting up companies in Ireland and the British Virgin Islands to help hide his earnings from image rights after two years at Atletico Madrid between 2011-2013.

"I can not say more, it is in the hands of its lawyers, I repeat, every time the authorities asked us, we always collaborate with them, it is in their hands (of the lawyers)," Falcao's agent Jorge Mendes was quoted as saying according to Colombian newspaper Vanguardia that ran the headline Radamel Falcao García estaría siendo investigado por la Fiscalía de Madrid (Radamel Falcao García would be investigated by the Prosecutor's Office of Madrid).

Alexis Sanchez:

Manchester United forward Alexis Sanchez pleaded guilty to two counts of tax fraud dating from when he played for Spanish team Barcelona and accepted a 16-month suspended jail sentence, his agent Fernando Felicevich had revealed on 8 February.

In a statement issued by the Barcelona prosecutor, Sanchez was accused of defrauding the Spanish state of a combined €983,000 ($1.2 million) in image rights in 2012 and 2013 by using a shell company in Malta and omitting the earnings from tax returns.

The Chilean was given a suspended sentence of eight months for each of those years and fines of €353,000 and €237,000 respectively.

However, Sanchez's agent Fernando Felicevich accused Spanish authorities of xenophobia while reacting to the charge, saying that nearly every footballer accused of tax fraud in the country happened to be a foreigner.

"Prosecutors have decided on their own criteria which players to accuse, almost all of them foreigners, and exercised threats and public pressure through the media to force the players and managers to accept these totally unjust agreements," Felicevich was quoted as saying according to a report on The Sun.

Luka Modric:

Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric had been accused by Spanish prosecutors of tax fraud of up to €870,728 ($1 million) in image rights in 2013 and 2014, a court filing showed 29 November.

The court filing from the prosecutor for the region of Madrid said Modric signed a contract in December 2012 ceding his image rights to Ivano, which received payments of €552,485 in 2013 and €729,000 in 2014.

Modric’s boot sponsor Nike paid Ivano €729,000 over those two years, according to the statement.

The filing said Ivano is a “false” company, “created with the only purpose of channelling the player’s image rights and avoiding tax”.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jun 21, 2018 17:44:36 IST