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Ronaldo et al and the rule of law

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[ FILE PHOTO ] Juventus’ forward and former Real Madrid player Cristiano Ronaldo arrives to attend a court hearing for tax evasion in Madrid on January 22, 2019. – (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

As the sanctity and even the power of the rule of law is being questioned and bastardized by strongmen in power in our country, there are some useful lessons that our leaders at all levels should imbibe from global sports where even the strongest, the most powerful, the wealthiest, the most prominent and the most significant too are being ruled by laws of the jurisdictions of such sports. The biggest lesson being what we try to ignore: that no matter your status and stature, the law is above you, after all.

The conclusion no strong man can demolish is that the law is majestic and it is no respecter of persons. So, individuals and corporate bodies must respect the law and comply with its provisions and any breach of such provisions should attract punishment.

Indeed, where the law rules, it brings to all a level playing ground and no man should show up as a ruler. The ruler too should comply with the law that he has sworn to uphold and defend. No one, no power is above the law, irrespective of one’s gender, status, race, means, etc.

That is also why pre-setting of penalties significantly takes care of abuses, arbitrariness and high-handedness in corporate governance and other constituted authorities in any lands.

The power of the rule of law came to the fore the other day with a report that a world celebrated footballer, Christiano Ronaldo, a five-time FIFA Ballon d’Or laureate was convicted and sentenced to jail for two years for tax evasion in Spain.

Ronaldo, the world’s football king who, at present plies his trade in Italy with Juventus Football Club, was found guilty of tax evasion while he was playing in Spain where he won four of his global soccer awards. According to reports, Ronaldo committed the tax offence while playing in Spain under the engagement of Real Madrid Football Club.

Although the two-year jail sentence was reduced to a monetary fine of Euro 365,000 and another penalty of Euro 3.2 million totalling Euro 3.57 million, the iconic footballer still one of the world’s best at this moment has no doubt, joined another club: the infamous ex-convicts’. He earned this status courtesy of his non-compliance with the tax laws. Prosecutors in Spain were not intimidated by Ronaldo’s iconic stature: He was jailed for “tax fraud” and that is a criminal offence in most places.

Before Ronaldo’s conviction, his fiercest rival, Lionel Messi, another football legend, who also won five FIFA Ballon d’Or awards had been jailed by a Spanish court in Barcelona. The court had in 2017, sentenced the FC Barcelona’s Argentine football star and his father to a prison term for tax fraud committed between 2007 and 2009.

The Barcelona Provincial Court had ruled that Messi and his father, Jorge Messi, had committed three counts of tax fraud that were punishable with 21 months (one year and nine months) in prison. Then, fines of two million euros and 1.5 million euros were imposed on Messi and father, respectively. The Spanish Supreme Court confirmed the Messis’ convictions last year.

Only last week, another Spanish Court also convicted Jose Mourinho, one of the world’s most famous football managers. Spanish prosecutors sentenced the ex-Manchester United and Real Madrid boss to 12 months in prison as part of a deal reached in a tax fraud case. Jose Mourinho, report said, accepted a 12-month prison sentence and a fine of close to €2.2 million after admitting to tax fraud in Madrid – but will not serve time in jail. The 56-year-old Portuguese was accused of evading paying in the region of €3.3 million in taxes on image rights while he was head coach of Real Madrid.

It is therefore important to appreciate the power of the rule of law from the fate Ronaldo, Messi and Mourinho faced in Spain while working with the biggest football clubs even in a global context. Although Ronaldo, for instance, committed the tax law infringement while in Spain and had actually moved on to Italy, the power of the rule of law caught up with him and brought him back to Spain to answer for the charges levelled against him.

Interestingly, Ronaldo, as reports made clear, pleaded to appear via video or to enter the court building by car to avoid spotlight. The court in Northwestern Madrid, Spain refused to oblige him. Thus, in obedience to the law, he had to travel from Italy to Spain to appear in court as a suspect – no very important suspect!

Despite his offence and conviction, however, the 34-year old celebrity who has achieved so much in his chosen career, was accorded due courtesies too by the police authorities as he was reportedly “escorted” not handcuffed to the court room by police officers. He spent about 40 minutes only in court; and even had the opportunity or privilege of signing autographs for some of the people within the court premises.

The key lessons from Ronaldo, his superstar colleague and his former manager’s experience can be many and in the minimum include, first, every person should strive not to contravene stipulated laws. In other words, persons must endeavour to comply with laws. Second, the arms of the law are too long that no one can escape from them. Three, it pays and more economical to comply with laws; non-compliance is a very expensive adventure that is not worth any promise. Four, a person’s accomplishments in life cannot absolve him or her from established legal responsibilities. Five, in spite of any one’s contravention of the law and conviction, law enforcement officials should accord due respect and rights to suspects and even convicts.

Finally, tax payment is both a legal and civic responsibility. All those that have the responsibility for tax payment must ensure that they pay as and when due. As it were, without the payment of appropriate tax, the government will be unable to play its expected and important roles to the citizenry.

However, when tax payments are made, the government, recipient of the revenue on behalf of the people, should manage it properly to serve the best interest of the people. That way, persons subject to payment of tax will be encouraged to fulfill this very necessary obligation.

Therefore, state actors who would want to file this comment should note that the Spanish authorities use revenue from taxation only to develop the country. So, tax payment here should be seen and managed as a citizen obligation but that too entails responsibility on the authorities to manage such revenue wisely. And it is the responsibility of the press under the constitution to monitor governance, in this regard and hold the authorities to account for such strategic incomes from the citizens, personal and corporate. That is what Section 22 of our constitution provides – making the press the fourth Estate of the Realm: to monitor governance and hold government to account.


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