Advisers in spotlight over tax evasion

Cristiano Ronaldo allegedly evaded taxes through offshore companies.
Cristiano Ronaldo allegedly evaded taxes through offshore companies.

MADRID • Cristiano Ronaldo under suspicion, Radamel Falcao investigated, Lionel Messi sentenced.

Spain's courts have been busy tackling the alleged and real multi-million-euro tax evasion of football's biggest stars.

But, while they may be aware of what they are doing, footballers rely on expert go-betweens like big banks to help them manage their finances.

The European Commission is now looking into measures that would dissuade these intermediaries from assisting wealthy individuals in avoiding tax.

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On top of their mammoth salaries and victory bonuses, the world's leading footballers earn millions by loaning their name and image for advertising campaigns - be it sports equipment, underwear or yoghurt.

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Messi was handed a €2.1 million (S$3.25 million) fine last year for avoiding paying taxes on part of the income he earned from image rights via companies in Belize, Britain, Switzerland and Uruguay.

When it confirmed the sentence last month, Spain's Supreme Court rejected Messi's argument that he ignored how his wealth was managed but still expressed surprise at the fact that his tax advisers were not prosecuted.

Monaco's Colombian forward Falcao is suspected of having hidden €5.6 million in image rights from Spain's taxman when he played for Atletico Madrid in 2012 and 2013. His Portuguese agent Jorge Mendes has been put under formal investigation in the case, and will be questioned by a judge on June 27.

Mendes, one of the most influential personalities in the football world, is also the agent of Ronaldo, who risks legal proceedings in Spain after prosecutors alleged last week that he evaded more than €14 million in tax through offshore companies.

If the Real Madrid star "is finally put under formal investigation, the judge will also have to ask how guilty the advisers and agents are", says Carlos Cruzado, head of the Gestha union of civil servants, who work for tax authorities.

In a bid to avoid specialised go-betweens from exploiting legal loopholes to pay as little tax as possible, European Union economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici will on Wednesday unveil a new directive against "fiscal optimisation".

"So far little has been done to introduce disincentives for those intermediaries that help clients avoid paying their fair share of tax," a spokesman for the commission said.

The directive aims to force those who advise people with lots of money or companies to declare the transborder products they propose to their clients to the taxman.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2017, with the headline 'Advisers in spotlight over tax evasion'. Print Edition | Subscribe