International soccer stars are caught in a web of intrigue that has seen them avoid paying hundreds of millions of pounds in tax.
Month after month the biggest names in football across Europe are embroiled in allegations of trying not to pay what they owe on huge earnings.
The investigations centre around tax authorities in the UK, France, Germany and Spain accusing footballers, clubs and agents of failing to declare money flowing in from their image rights.
Real Madrid superstar and captain of Portugal Cristiano Ronaldo is one big name currently under scrutiny over £13 million of allegedly unpaid tax.
Argentina international and Barcelona ace Lionel Messi was recently handed a suspended prison sentence in Spain after admitting tax avoidance.
Tackling tax avoidance
Many current and former players and managers were alleged to have paid huge amounts to HM Revenue & Customs in the UK for investing in failed film financing projects that turned out to be illegal tax avoidance schemes.
“HMRC carefully scrutinises the arrangements between football clubs and their employees in respect of any image right payment to make sure the right tax is paid.
“We rigorously enforce the rules and tackle firmly anybody who games the system. Since 2014-15 we have delivered £269 million in extra tax from tackling rule-breakers in the football industry generally.
“We are currently making enquiries into the tax affairs of 67 footballers, 39 football clubs and 13 agents concerning a range of issues, including image rights abuse and are looking into more than 100 footballers in relation to the use of tax avoidance schemes.
“HMRC works closely with its international partners, sharing information to ensure tax is correctly accounted for and paid in the relevant country.”
HMRC recently raided Newcastle United and Wests Ham United football clubs and piles of records relating to transfers and player payments were seized. Both deny any claims of wrongdoing.
Newcastle managing director Lee Charnley was among several arrests. He was released without charge.
French tax official have also raided clubs – the latest being Paris Saint-Germain.
Spanish and French investigations appear to focus on agent Jorge Mendes, who has several clients accused of tax irregularities.
One, former Manchester United and Real Madrid player Angel di Maria, who now turns out for Paris Saint-Germain, agreed to pay the Spanish tax authority £1.76 million arising from image right issues.