Messi situations: 10 footballers' tax troubles

How footballers have ended up in some tax trouble over the last year.

Tax troubles

It's fair to say footballers do not have the best relationship with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

Take this example from the Guardian's mysterious Secret Footballer, writing in 2011 about the (now scrapped) 50% tax rate for higher earners.

'Footballers have never claimed to be financial experts, unlike those bankers who plunged us all into the biggest fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. For them, the 50% tax rate was their punishment and a convenient way of ensnaring footballers at the same time. All of which means the playing field is no longer level. If this is democracy, you can stick it right up Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs,' he wrote

With careers so short it's easy to understand why footballers are so keen to protect their money, even if the wages appear eye watering at first sight. It's also easy to see why tax authorities around the world are so keen to make these stars and superstars pay up.

Here's 10 cases where football has found itself in a bit of bother on taxes.

Tax troubles

It's fair to say footballers do not have the best relationship with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

Take this example from the Guardian's mysterious Secret Footballer, writing in 2011 about the (now scrapped) 50% tax rate for higher earners.

'Footballers have never claimed to be financial experts, unlike those bankers who plunged us all into the biggest fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. For them, the 50% tax rate was their punishment and a convenient way of ensnaring footballers at the same time. All of which means the playing field is no longer level. If this is democracy, you can stick it right up Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs,' he wrote

With careers so short it's easy to understand why footballers are so keen to protect their money, even if the wages appear eye watering at first sight. It's also easy to see why tax authorities around the world are so keen to make these stars and superstars pay up.

Here's 10 cases where football has found itself in a bit of bother on taxes.

Messi affairs

He may be the best footballer in the world (sorry Cristiano Ronaldo) but Lionel Messi hasn't been able to escape tax trouble in recent years.

In 2016 the Barcelona and Argentina star was convicted alongside his father Jorge of avoiding €4.1 million (£3.5 million) in taxes to Spain.

Following this the footballer was handed a 21-month jail sentence, however under Spanish law jail terms of less than two months can be served under probation.

Messi attempted to appeal the decision. Part of his claim rested on the claim he was not really aware of what was being done with his money to avoid tax.

Unfortunately for the attacker the Spanish Supreme Court did not agree and in May this year confirmed his sentence.

'It defies logic to concede that someone who earns a large income does not know that he must pay taxes on it,' the court said.

Neymar of that?

One of Messi's attacking partners at Barcelona has also found himself on the wrong side of tax authorities.

Brazilian superstar Neymar recently won the first part of his case against the tax man in Brazil over a 200 million reais (£52 million) unpaid tax bill.

The court ruled that he was entitled to cede image rights to businesses run by his family members in Brazil, dismissing the claim they were only front companies set up to avoid taxes.

While this victory will likely cut the £52 million bill in half, Neymar still faces further accusations which could make any visit home in the near future uncomfortable. Sky News reports that after the tax office finishes its case federal prosecutors are expected to charge the player and his father in a criminal court for tax evasion and fraud.

Newcastle and West Ham searched

HMRC has not just focussed on players: earlier this year it raided offices belonging to Newcastle United and West Ham United.

The investigations are looking at possible £5 million tax and national insurance fraud.

A statement from HMRC confirmed 'several men' have been arrested in relation to the investigations, which are taking place across the UK and France.

The Guardian later reported that part of the investigation related to investigations on whether national insurance and income tax was avoided during the transfers of former Newcastle players including Moussa Sissoko (pictured), Papiss Cissé and Demba Ba.

Willian worries?

The Panama Papers mentioned many of the great and famous of the world, so it was no surprise to see footballers among the names.

Chelsea's attacking midfielder Willian was among those named according to a report in the Guardian last April.

Willian was the only shareholder in a British Virgin Islands based company called Saxon Sponsoring Ltd, which was set up in September 2013, a month after he joined Chelsea.

However, a spokesman for the player told the Guardian the company was incorporated ‘before Willian’s employment by Chelsea FC and was dormant following his arrival in the UK’. He added the company has been dissolved.

Andy arrangements?

Alongside Willian in the Panama Papers was an attacking master of an older Premier League vintage: former Manchester United and England striker Andy Cole.

Cole appears to have owned a Nottingham house through an offshore company called Crewzen Finance Ltd. He declined to comment when contacted by the Guardian.

Devils in the details

Few people in football are so insistent in believing there is a conspiracy against them as Manchester United's manager Jose Mourinho.

At various times in the past the 'Special One' has accused Uefa, referees and the media of being at the centre of conspiracies against him. The latest such rant came in February when he accused the Premier League of deliberately campaigning against the Red Devils following a 0-0 home draw with Hull City.

While some might dismiss the more extreme ramblings against referees, it's easy to see why Mourinho feels the world might be against him. After all, how many other managers have had MPs call for an enquiry into their tax affairs?

In December 2016 MP and chair of the public accounts committee Meg Hillier told the Sunday Times there was c case for 'close examination' of allegations about Mourinho's tax affairs uncovered by the paper.

The Sunday Times claimed Mourinho placed £10 million into a Swiss account owned by a British Virgin Islands (BVI) firm. Mourinho’s advisers reportedly attributed £1 million in costs to the BVI 'shell' company, which the paper suggests had no employees, in a bid to reduce the manager’s tax bill.

A spokesman for Mourinho said there could be ‘no suggestion whatsoever’ he had committed a criminal offence.

Eto'o Barcelona?

Yet another player connected to Barcelona found himself in trouble with the tax authorities at the end of last year.

Former Cameroon international Samuel Eto'o is looking at a 10 year prison sentence for alleged tax crimes committed during his time in Spain according to a report in the Guardian last year.

The player denies any wrongdoing and claims he was not directly involved his tax matters.

When it Waynes it pours

In the last year Wayne Rooney broke the England and Manchester United goal scoring records, but it has not been a happy 12 months for the striker.

Not only has he has been dropped from the Manchester United first team, but he was recently dropped from the England squad, potentially marking the end of his high-level career.

Off the pitch Rooney has faced other problems with his tax bills. In October 2016 the Times reported Rooney was facing a £3.5 million tax charge from HMRC due to his involvement in the Invicta 43 film partnership.

According to The Times Rooney was put in the scheme by the now defunct Financial Management Group (FMG), described by the paper as a wealth management group, at one time chaired by the former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish.

It said Invicta is thought to have paid a commission, possibly 2% of Rooney’s £12.5 million total investment, to FMG.

Rooney’s spokesman would not comment on the claims, bit said: ‘Wayne’s tax affairs have always been conducted in full compliance with the law.’

There is no suggestion that any named investor has behaved illegally or will not be able to pay, the paper said.

It added that many have argued the scheme was sold as a product for tax deferral rather than tax avoidance

Hart times

Rooney's name also came up in another Times story about tax tactics used by football stars last December.

This one uncovered how 180 footballer stars use ‘companies as pension pots’ to save tax on their earnings after clubs struck a deal with the taxman. This was based around earnings related to 'image rights' being channelled to companies rather than individuals. Since the earnings from image rights, once attributed to a company, are taxed using corporate tax rates rather than income tax, the players’ personal tax bills are dramatically reduced.

According to The Times Rooney has £8.95 million in his image rights company Stoneygate and sometime England goalkeeper Joe Hart has £2.31 million in JCLC Promotions.

HMRC ramps it up

HMRC has also made it clear it is looking specifically at high-profile tax cases.

Last year HMRC chief executive Jon Thompson said that football players using image right companies based in offshore tax havens was 'the most significant risk in football'.

During the same evidence session, HMRC’s director general of enforcement Jennie Granger told MPs the tax body was investigating 43 football players over their use of offshore image rights companies.

'We have 43 players, eight agents, and 12 football clubs currently under inquiry around the issue of image rights,' she said.

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