On Tuesday Cristiano Ronaldo, smiling and bedizened in a black coat and diamond earrings, arrived at court in Madrid, Spain, to receive a $21.6 million fine for tax fraud. It is roughly what the Portuguese star, worth around $450 million, makes each quarter. And while the 33-year-old—who’s also currently under investigation for an alleged rape in Las Vegas—may be a particularly distasteful example, it’s just the tip of the international tax-evasion iceberg in modern soccer, which thanks to whistleblowers and investigative journalism is now slowly being revealed.
Ronaldo, a five-time FIFA world player of the year who last summer moved from Real Madrid to Italian giant Juventus, has become a human billboard since bursting onto the global stage as a teenager with Manchester United. He owns businesses in footwear, fragrances, gyms, a creative agency, hotels and underwear. He endorses watches, shampoo, online gambling–even steelworks. His sponsored social media posts can fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars. His legs are insured for $144 million.
The star’s tax strategy is similarly diffuse. In accusing the player of four counts of tax evasion between 2011 and 2014, a Madrid state prosecutorRonaldo “intentionally” did not declare income, falsely reported income as coming from real estate, and funneled cash through a Virgin Islands-incorporated firm to “create a screen in order to hide his total income from Spain’s tax office.”
The deal cut with the Madrid court includes both the hefty payment to the Spanish state, and 23 months in jail. But first offenders with a custodial sentence below two years in Spain almost always avoid time behind bars. The same day, former Real teammate Xabi Alonso visited the same court, accused of defrauding the taxman of $2.3 million. His case continues.