Eto’o risks 10-year jail sentence for ‘fraud’
BARCELONA: Spanish prosecutors have asked that Cameroonian football great Samuel Eto’o be handed a 10-year jail sentence and pay a 14.3-million-euro ($15 million) fine for alleged tax fraud, a court filing revealed Thursday.
They allege that Eto’o — now at Antalyaspor in Turkey — set up front companies to avoid paying taxes from 2006 to 2009, when he was a striker at Barcelona before leaving for Inter Milan.
The fraud, they say, amounts to some 3.9 million euros.
“The footballer pretended he had ceded his rights to two other companies in Hungary and Spain so as to fraudulently avoid paying taxes,” they added in accusations seen by AFP calling for Eto’o to be tried.
The income diverted to the company based in Hungary wasn’t taxed in Spain, and benefitted from the eastern European country’s low tax rate, prosecutors said.
The money put in the Spanish firm, meanwhile, was taxed at a lower rate as it came under the regime of company — rather than income — taxation.
Prosecutors estimate the footballer, a four-time former African Player of the Year, should reimburse the alleged fraud to tax authorities plus interest, and pay a 14.3-million-euro fine.
They want a prison sentence of 18 months for the 2006 fraud, and then three years jail for each subsequent year until 2009, which adds up to 10-and-a-half years.
Even if he is given the full sentence, though, he is unlikely to spend all that time in jail, given prisoners often get paroled for good behaviour.
– Barcelona players’ legal woes –
Eto’o is not the only FC Barcelona player to be accused of tax fraud.
Argentine superstar Lionel Messi, fellow countryman Javier Mascherano, as well as Brazil’s Adriano and Chile’s Alexis Sanchez, have been subject to similar allegations linked to image rights.
Messi and his father were sentenced in July to 21 months in jail for tax fraud, which they are appealing.
Whatever the outcome, the prison sentences are likely to be suspended as is common in Spain for first offences for non-violent crimes carrying a sentence of less than two years.
Mascherano, meanwhile, was given a one-year suspended jail sentence last December.
Brazilian star Neymar is also under judicial scrutiny, with prosecutors recommending he be handed a two-year jail sentence and a 10-million-euro fine for alleged corrupt practices in his 2013 transfer to Barcelona.
Eto’o spent a hugely successful decade in Spain’s La Liga, playing for both Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
He also played for Chelsea and Inter Milan.
He is now at Antalyaspor, which signed Eto’o in June 2015 as the keystone of their bid to find national and even European success for the southern Mediterranean resort city.
But the club is struggling in the Super Lig, and Eto’o was recently involved in a racism row, writing on his Instagram account in September that he was not being given respect for his achievements as he is black.
Furious, the club left him out of the squad, with chairman Ali Safak Ozturk reportedly saying no player was “above the interests of Antalyaspor.”
But he was reinstated in October.