Cristiano Ronaldo accused of tax evasion: Other sports stars' run-ins with the taxman

(From left) Lionel Messi, Lindsey Vonn, Manny Pacquiao and Alexis Sanchez have all been under the spotlight in recent years regarding their tax practices.
(From left) Lionel Messi, Lindsey Vonn, Manny Pacquiao and Alexis Sanchez have all been under the spotlight in recent years regarding their tax practices.PHOTO: REUTERS, AFP

With a powerful kick, a graceful turn or a precise punch, sports stars inspire millions around the world.

Not so inspirational though, are some of their tax practices.

On Monday (July 31), football megastar Cristiano Ronaldo, 32, appeared in court near Madrid, facing accusations of evading €14.7 million (S$23.3 million) in taxes. The four-time world player of the year allegedly used a shell companies based in the British Virgin Islands and Ireland, known for low corporate tax rates.

Here are 9 other sportsmen who have evaded the taxman:

1. Radamel Falcao (football)

The AS Monaco striker, 31, is suspected of failing to correctly declare €5.6 million of income earned from image rights between 2012 and 2013, while he was at Spanish club Atletico Madrid.

The Colombian is suspected of using a web of shell companies in the British Virgin Islands, Ireland, Colombia and Panama to avoid taxes on the image rights income.

2. Alexis Sanchez (football)

The Chilean forward from famous English football club Arsenal, admitted to evading 983,443 in taxes while at former club Barcelona.

He admitted that his tax declarations for 2012 and 2013 had not included profits from his image rights, which transited through a company based in Malta, and that he had not declared his ownership of the company Numidia Trading Limited.

The 28-year-old player's confession could see him receive a fine and possibly a non-custodial prison sentence.

3. Angel di Maria (football)

Paris Saint-Germain player Angel di Maria, 29, was accused of failing to pay €1.3 million to the Spanish tax authorities in the 2012-2013 season, by giving up his image rights to companies based in tax havens such as Panama.

In June this year, he reached an agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to two charges of tax fraud which carry an eight-month prison sentence each, and paying a €2 million euros settlement.

Under Spanish law, a first-time offender is not required to serve time in jail for a sentence below two years.

4. Lionel Messi (football)

Lionel Messi sits on the pitch after a fall during the Spanish league football match between Barcelona and Real Madrid. PHOTO: AFP

The 29-year-old Argentine football star of Barcelona fame, was sentenced to 21 months in prison last July, after a Spanish court found that, just as how he evades tackles on the pitch, he evaded taxes off it.

Messi and his father were alleged to have used shell companies in tax havens to protect royalties and licensing earnings from Spanish income tax.

Despite paying authorities €5 million as "corrective payment", he was made to stand trial.

Messi will likely serve the duration as probation.

5. Neymar da Silva Santos Junior (football)

Neymar reacts during the Spanish King's Cup football match between Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao. PHOTO: REUTERS 

Messi's teammate at Barcelona, the Brazilian forward known by fans simply as Neymar, 24, was fined by a Brazilian court 100,000 in January last year for unpaid taxes, from his time at former Brazilian club Santos.

In March, he was ordered to pay another 188.8 million Brazilian reals (S$83 million) in penalty, interest and back taxes, on charges of "omitting sources of income from abroad".

Neymar has maintained that all undeclared money were from payments to a third-party company, and not considered part of his income.

On July 26, his father said he has been cleared of any criminal charges in the long-running case.

6. Manny Pacquiao (boxing)

Manny Pacquiao delivers a speech during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. PHOTO: AFP 

Alas, the Pacman couldn't fight the taxman.

The 38-year-old Filipino boxer has the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Philippines Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) on his back, for the money he earned from major fights in the US.

Boxing promoter Bob Arum has said that Pacquiao only has to pay taxes in one country, and that he had already paid the IRS via electronic funds transfer.

However, the Philippine government is still demanding 3.3 billion pesos (S$94.15 million), and has frozen some of Pacquiao's assets under a tax lien, in this long drawn saga.

7. Lindsey Vonn (skiing)

Lindsey Vonn reacts after her training run during the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup. PHOTO: REUTERS

The American World Cup ski champion was handed a tax lien by the IRS in early April 2012, after not paying outstanding taxes.

The money owed, Vonn explained, was for the 2010 tax year, and she said it had actually been filed on time. Her financial advisor was apparently responsible for not submitting the payment.

The 32-year-old paid off the over US$1.7 million (S$2.41 million) she owed in back taxes, immediately after she became aware of it.

8. Nick Diaz (mixed martial arts)

In a very spectacular series of events in March 2013, the mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter lost an Ultimate Fighting Championship bout for the welterweight title. He said in the ring after the fight that he was retiring, only to join the post-fight press conference midway demanding a rematch, while making the sensational announcement: "I've never paid taxes in my life. I'm probably going to go to jail."

His trainer, Cesar Gracie, later clarified that the 33-year-old American had indeed paid taxes before, and was merely behind on filing his papers.

9. Terrell Owens (American football)

Terrell Owens looks on from the sidelines during the game between the Chattanooga Mocs and Alabama Crimson Tide.  PHOTO: AFP

The 43-year-old former American football star owed the authorities US$430,000 from 2005 to 2009, an amount he paid up in 2013.

But in 2014, the American, still had US$244,000 in unpaid income tax from 2012.

As of February 2015, Owens - the only player in National Football League (NFL) history to score a touchdown against all 32 teams - still owed US$107,000 in income taxes from 2013.

But Owens seems interested in resolving his financial issues. He signed onto reality show Celebrity Apprentice to learn wealth management from - surprise, surprise - current US President Donald Trump.