Soccer Leak Revealing Offshore Millions Prompts French Probe

  • Ronaldo, Pogba among those targeted in massive data hack
  • French tax-evasion investigation follows similar Spanish case

Paul Pogba.

Photographer: Michael Regan/Getty Images

France is the latest country to investigate possible tax avoidance by soccer stars, coaches and their managers following the leak of financial information published by media organizations across Europe.

France’s financial prosecutor opened a preliminary probe into possible laundering of tax-fraud proceeds earlier this month, it said Tuesday in a statement. The probe is run by a law enforcement unit specializing in financial and tax offenses. Mediapart, a French group that’s been publishing data distributed by the Football Leaks website, said Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, the world’s most expensive player, has offshore bank accounts. His agent, Mino Raiola, also named in the documents, described the information as "inaccurate."

Cristiano Ronaldo. Photographer: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo. Photographer: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Photographer: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Last week, Spain’s tax agency requested information from the El Mundo newspaper after it ran a series of stories that alleged that some people in the soccer world, including Real Madrid star forward Cristiano Ronaldo, have improperly benefited from having image-rights income paid into offshore accounts established by Portuguese soccer entrepreneur Jorge Mendes’s Gestifute agency.

Football Leaks had been posting documents on its website until April, when it started supplying them to Mediapart, a coalition of media organizations. Mediapart revealed earlier this month that Paris Saint-Germain players Angel Di Maria and Javier Pastore received some revenue in Panama or Uruguay in order to lower their taxes in Europe.

The information sheds light on complex financial structures used in global soccer, where salaries and transfer fees are some of the highest in sport.

The leak has revealed a lack of regulation in the sport, something new FIFA President Gianni Infantino admitted in recent interviews.

“The problem is that there is no transparency," Infantino said in an interview with Der Spiegel, one of the newspapers to have access to the Football Leaks data.

"It is naive to believe that the FIFA can know from Zurich exactly what is happening with all transfers around the world," he said. Critics have said the sport’s world governing body, which has more than $1 billion in reserves, should devote more resources to oversight of soccer.

Last week, Ronaldo’s management team released his 2015 tax declaration. It revealed he held assets outside of Spain worth more than 203 million euros ($216 million). “This communication, which was not required by law, constitutes irrefutable proof that Cristiano Ronaldo and his representatives are in good faith, and cooperate with the authorities in a spirit of transparency and compliance with legality,” Gestifute said.

Spain’s Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro told the nation’s parliament in Madrid last Wednesday that no team, athlete or sport is exempt from paying taxes. He added sportsmen, given their public profile, had an added responsibility to be good role models.

Ronaldo isn’t the first soccer star playing in Spain to have his financial affairs come under scrutiny.

His case comes four months after Ronaldo’s rival for the title of the world’s top player, Lionel Messi, was sentenced to 21 months in prison for tax fraud in Spain. The Barcelona player is appealing the sentence.

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