Cameroon: Why Samuel Eto’o is being prosecuted for ‘tax fraud’ in Spain

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Wednesday, 8 June 2022 10:17

Samuel Eto'o at his home in Paris on 25 March 2021 © Vincent Fournier for JA

On 20 June, former footballer Samuel Eto'o will be tried for failing to pay taxes when he played for Barcelona, according to Spanish justice. He pleads good faith, as the manager of his assets has been convicted.

Samuel Eto’o, head of the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot), is accused of not having paid his taxes, which amount to a total of about €3.8m, between 2006 and 2009. And including penalties, the sum actually reaches €8m.

Facing a prison sentence, the former footballer pleads innocence. According to his lawyers, he was one of the victims of José Maria Mesalles, his Spanish lawyer, to whom he had delegated the power to buy, sell, make transfers, manage his assets and, therefore, discharge his tax obligations. The former footballer, who played for Barcelona and Real Madrid, is said to have entrusted him with everything he had earned during part of his career playing for Spain.

Embezzlement and fraud

According to our information, Eto’o acquired 99.97% of the shares in the company Bulte 2002 Empresarial SL, which owns buildings in Majorca and Cameroon, in 2002. But a few years later, he realised that his shares represented only one per cent of the capital. Mesalles had in fact bought them through a series of fraudulent financial arrangements.

The former striker then filed a complaint about embezzlement and organised fraud. On 3 July 2013, Judge Joaquin Aguirre convicted Mesalles on criminal charges of tax fraud, swindling and embezzlement. As part of the civil case, the manager also had to pay €18m in damages to the footballer. But the lawyer, having organised his insolvency, never paid his victim anything.

After Lionel Messi…

Eto’o and his lawyers are pleading good faith and demanding that the court decision recognising Mesalles’ civil and criminal liability, in this case, be applied. The former footballer would also be willing to pay €3.8m, the amount he owes in taxes. But the Spanish justice system, which is known for its intransigence when it comes to tax disputes, also wants him to pay the late penalties.

The Cameroonian is not the first footballer who has gotten into trouble with the Spanish tax authorities, who regularly hand down firm or suspended prison sentences to celebrities.

In July 2016, for example, Lionel Messi and his father were sentenced to 21 months in prison for “tax fraud” valued at €4.1m for the 2007, 2008 and 2009 tax seasons.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options