Football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has arrived in court in Madrid amid a huge media presence to face tax evasion charges which could result in an €18.8m (£16.6m) fine.
A judge refused the player’s request to appear by video or to enter the building by car to avoid the spotlight.
He is widely expected to plead guilty in a pre-agreed deal that would hand him a 23-month jail sentence.
In Spain, convicts are usually not sent to jail for sentences under two years.
The non-violent nature of Ronaldo’s offence means it is unlikely he would face any time at all in jail under the deal.
The current Juventus player, who made an appearance for the club in Italy the night before, arrived smiling and giving a thumbs-up despite his previous request to enter the courthouse by car.
His lawyers had argued that given his fame, avoiding the main entrance was needed for the player’s security.
Journalist Ruben Canizares posted a video of the footballer arriving at the provincial court with his fiancee Georgina Rodriguez.
What are the allegations against Ronaldo?
Ronaldo, five-time winner of Europe’s Ballon d’Or and often titled one of the world’s best players, is accused of avoiding paying tax in Spain between 2011 and 2014, when he was playing for Real Madrid and based in the Spanish capital.
The case centres around lucrative image rights deals. Prosecutors say the proceeds were funnelled through low-tax companies in foreign nations to avoid paying the required tax.
The amount was reported to be in the region of €14.8m.
In 2017, when the allegations first emerged, prosecutors said it was a “voluntary and conscious breach of his fiscal obligations in Spain”.
But Ronaldo’s lawyers said it is all down to a misunderstanding over what was and was not required under Spanish law, and deny any deliberate attempt to evade tax.
The deal, struck in June last year, had to be agreed with Spain’s tax authorities. It will be presented to the judge on Tuesday at a short court session. The judge will announce his verdict in the coming days.
Ronaldo is not the only high-profile player to face the wrath of Spain’s tax system.
His former Real Madrid team-mate Xabi Alonso is expected to appear in court on the same day for the first time, charged with similar image rights offences amounting to about €2m.
In recent years:
- Barcelona star Lionel Messi avoided a jail sentence for a similar scheme involving image rights, paying several million in a “corrective payment” in back taxes and fines
- Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior was at the centre of a row when Barcelona was fined millions after being charged with tax fraud over Neymar’s signing – but avoided admitting the offence
- Real Madrid’s Marcelo Vieira admitted to tax fraud and accepted a four-month suspended jail sentence over his use of foreign firms to handle almost half a million euros in earnings
The recent crackdown on high-profile footballers follows the removal of a tax exemption in 2010. Known as the “Beckham law”, it had allowed footballers to curb their taxes.
Ronaldo also faces another ongoing legal battle: the football superstar is accused of rape in Las Vegas in 2009, a charge which he denies.