Ex-footballer Samuel Eto’o pleads guilty to tax fraud to avoid prison

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 10, 2021 Samuel Eto’o Fils (C), an ex-Cameroonian footballer, is seen during the election of a new president of the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) at the Mont Febe Hotel in Yaounde. Ex-footballer Samuel Eto’o pleads guilty to tax fraud to avoid prison according to a Spanish court, AFP reports on June 20, 2022.
Daniel Beloumou Olomo / AFP

Former Cameroon football star Samuel Eto’o has struck a deal with Spanish prosecutors to avoid going to jail for tax fraud he committed while playing for Barcelona, a court in the city announced Monday. Eto’o, who played for Barcelona from 2004 to 2009, received a fine and a 22-month suspended sentence but will not serve any time, as is customary in Spain for prison terms of under two years for non-violent crimes.

Reports in Spain claim Eto’o, 41, will pay a fine of 1.8 million euros ($1.9 million). The record four-time African footballer of the year and Jose Maria Mesalles, his former representative, who for his part was sentenced to 12 months and a fine, must reimburse Spanish tax authorities for the amount defrauded, around 3.9 million euros.

Prosecutors accused Eto’o of failing to declare income from the transfer of image rights between 2006 and 2009. According to them, Eto’o transferred his image rights to a company based in Hungary which declared his earnings in that country, where the tax rate is one of the “lowest in Europe”.

A second Spanish company declared them in Spain at the corporate tax rate, less than the income tax that should have been paid. Eto’o was the “real holder of the image rights”, maintained the prosecution, according to whom the transfer was fraudulent and only designed to pay less tax. 

Eto’o, who last year was elected head of the Cameroonian football federation, is one of a number of football stars to have a run-in with Spanish tax authorities, following the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar.