Thursday 22 February 2018

Why Cristiano Ronaldo really could go to prison - but it is not that straightforward for the Real Madrid star

Ronaldo may look to Lionel Messi for precedent. Getty
Ronaldo may look to Lionel Messi for precedent. Getty

Kieran Canning

Could Cristiano Ronaldo really find himself behind the bars of a Spanish prison should he be found guilty on four charges of tax fraud totalling €14.7m? The short answer is yes, but a long and highly complex process remains with opportunities for Spanish prosecutors and Ronaldo's team of lawyers to strike deals that could mitigate any sentence.

What do we know so far?

Ronaldo has been accused by Spanish prosecutors of evading €1.4m in 2011, €1.6m in 2012, €3.2m in 2013 and €8.5m in 2014 for a total of €14.7m (£12.95m) by using a complicated series of offshore companies to receive millions paid from sponsors for his image rights.

The investigating judge has called Ronaldo to give testimony on July 31st before a Madrid court.

What happens now?

It is important to stress that when Ronaldo gives his evidence next month he will do so as a suspect. He has not yet been charged with any offences.

After hearing the four-time World Player of the Year's testimony and other evidence, the judge will then decide if the case should proceed to trial or not.

No date has been set for a potential trial, but as an indicator it was almost three years to the day between Lionel Messi being accused by prosecutors on tax fraud charges in June 2013 and his sentencing last year.

If found guilty what sort of sentence could Ronaldo face?

Before any trial prosecutors will outline what sentence they are seeking. However, as in the UK, this is merely instructive as even should the defendant be found guilty, the judge in most cases will impose a more lenient sentence.

The key to any first time offence in Spain is whether the sentence comes in under or over two years. As in Messi's case - the Argentine was sentenced to 21 months for three cases of tax fraud arising from his image rights - sentences under two years are suspended.

However, prosecutors could seek well in advance of that 24-month cut off period in Ronaldo's case. For the count in 2011 the minimum sentence is one year, but the cases in 2012, 2013 and 2014 are deemed to be "aggravated" for the amounts allegedly evaded and therefore each carry a sentence of between two and six years.

Gestha, the union of experts for the Spain's Inland Revenue service "Hacienda", believe Ronaldo would also face a fine of at least €28m.

Yet, Gestha also pointed out that Ronaldo can half or even quarter the amount of the minimum sentences in every case if in the next two months he pays back the tax he is accused of evading plus interests and fines.

That was a move used by Messi and his father Jorge Horacio, who also received a 15-month sentence, as they moved to repay the tax owed in 2013 which limited their sentence when found guilty.

Will the case even get to court?

Even if the judge of first instance decides a trial should go ahead, there still remains scope for Ronaldo and his team to come to a settlement with prosecutors.

Javier Mascherano agreed a one-year sentence and €800,000 fine over a €1.1m tax fraud case relating to his image rights last year.

On Wednesday, Mascherano's Argentine teammate Angel di Maria also reached a deal with the authorities that saw him hit with a €2m fine and 16-month jail term for two counts of tax fraud during his time at Real Madrid in 2012 and 2013.

Given the severity of those sentences for quantities far short of what Ronaldo is accused of, any deal for Ronaldo is likely to contain an astronomical fine.

However, the waters were further muddied on Friday morning when prosecutors said they were not against Messi's 21-month sentence being converted into a €250,000 fine - €400 for every day of the sentence - on top of the €2m fine Messi has already paid.

That precedent could allow Ronaldo to see his pride and pocket hit by the scandal, but leave his freedom intact.

Independent News Service

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