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A group of European media outlets on Friday published what it claims are details of tax arrangements made by several top football players and coaches, including Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho.
The news outlets – which include German weekly Der Spiegel, Spanish daily El Mundo and French investigative website Mediapart – cited documents provided by the Football Leaks website, which has in the past claimed that some players and coaches made transactions that could suggest financial impropriety.
The media group, which goes by the name European Investigative Collaborations, said it plans to release further reports in the coming days and weeks.
The Football Leaks documents “show how the Real Madrid star (Ronaldo) has discreetly deposited 149.5 million euros of sponsorship earnings in tax havens. The forward paid only 5.6 million euros in tax – about 4 percent of this fortune”, wrote Mediapart.
Ronaldo and Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, released a statement denying any wrongdoing.
“Both Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho are in compliance with their fiscal obligations in Spain and in the United Kingdom,” said the statement, issued by Mendes’ company Gestifute and released this week after a Spanish report accused Ronaldo. “Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho have never been involved in any legal process related to any fiscal crime.”
Gestifute added that it would take legal action against “any insinuation or accusation of that nature related” to either Ronaldo or Mourinho.
El Mundo reported that Spain’s tax service had been investigating several Mendes clients for some time.
‘Huge, massive, immediate’
Mediapart’s Yann Philippin told FRANCE 24 that before the revelations were published, the journalists sent the footballers detailed questions about what they had found.
“They knew everything about what we were going to publish,” Philippin said. “Instead of answering us, they answered with their lawyers.” They also re-issued a press release that was dated before the exposé went public.
Ironically, said Philippin, a letter from the lawyers confirmed some of the revelations, notably that Mourinho had once owed “a tax penalty of more than €4 million”.
Philippin said the investigative team came under “huge, massive and immediate” pressure not to release its findings.
But he promised that more revelations were in the works: “There is much more coming up.”
“We want to explain to the fans that they are the losers,” he said, noting that the money came from selling tickets to football matches and from fans paying to watch games on TV. “It’s their money [that] is taken by this vast off-shore system and that is not benefiting the game – the game they love.”
The pain in Spain
Many top players have recently had to deal with the Spanish tax authorities, including Barcelona stars Neymar and Lionel Messi. Messi and his father were sentenced in July to 21 months in prison for tax fraud, although they served no time because sentences of less than two years for first offences are usually suspended in Spain.
Neymar and his father recently found out that they are each facing a two-year prison sentence and a $10.6 million fine on corruption charges related to alleged irregularities during Neymar’s transfer from Brazilian club Santos to Barcelona in 2013. They have denied any wrongdoing.
Barcelona paid a fine of $5.8 million in a separate case in June after acknowledging that it had made “an error in the fiscal planning of the player’s transfer”.
Spanish prosecutors said last month that they were seeking a prison term of more than 10 years for former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o for alleged tax crimes committed when he played for the Catalan club.
Also this year, Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano was handed a suspended one-year sentence for tax fraud while former defender Adriano was charged with “tax irregularities”.