BARCELONA (Reuters) - Manchester United forward Alexis Sanchez pleaded guilty to two counts of tax fraud dating from when he played for Spanish team Barcelona and accepted a 16-month suspended jail sentence, his agent Fernando Felicevich said on Wednesday.
In a statement issued by the Barcelona prosecutor and seen by Reuters, Sanchez was accused of defrauding the Spanish state of a combined 983,000 euros ($1.2 million) in image rights in 2012 and 2013 by using a shell company in Malta and omitting the earnings from tax returns.
The Chilean was given a suspended sentence of eight months for each of those years and fines of 353,000 euros and 237,000 euros respectively.
Spanish law is such that any sentence under two years for a non-violent crime rarely requires a defendant without previous convictions to serve jail time.
Sanchez posted on social media a statement from Felicevich which criticised Spain’s authorities for changing their criteria on tax returns and using the media to publicly shame players.
“Despite proving Alexis did not commit any crime, we felt obliged, on the recommendation of our advisers, to accept the unfair pact offered to us to alleviate the emotional, personal and financial stress that comes from dealing with long and tedious court cases...” the statement said.
“Seeing the huge ordeals that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi etc have been put through, we came to the conclusion that it was best to accept this unfair deal so that we can move on and stop being the object of media and political pressure.”
A spokesperson for Spain’s tax agency said it could not comment on individual cases but that it uses the same criteria and measures for each tax payer.
Sanchez, who joined United last month from Arsenal, is the latest in a long line of La Liga players past and present, including Ronaldo, Messi, Marcelo, Pepe and Javier Mascherano to face judicial process for allegedly defrauding the Spanish state.
Sanchez moved to Barcelona from Italian side Udinese in 2011 and joined Arsenal three years later.
($1 = 0.8148 euros)
Reporting by Richard Martin,; Editing by Ken Ferris and Ed Osmond