After having maintained her innocence for nearly five years, pop star Shakira struck a last-minute deal to avoid the risk of going to prison on the opening day of her tax fraud trial in Barcelona on Monday.
Shakira told the presiding magistrate, Jose Manuel del Amo, that she accepted the agreement reached with prosecutors. She answered “yes” to confirm her acknowledgement of six counts of failing to pay the Spanish government 14.5 million euros (about $21.7 million Cdn) in taxes between 2012 and 2014.
Under the deal, Shakira is to receive a suspended three-year sentence and a fine of 7 million euros ($10.5 million Cdn).
The trial, which would have included more than 100 witnesses over the following weeks, was instead called off after just eight minutes.
Prosecutors said in July that they would seek a prison sentence of eight years and two months and a fine of 24 million euros ($36 million Cdn) for the singer, who has won over fans worldwide for her hits in Spanish and English in different musical genres.
Shakira said in a statement provided by her public relations firm that she had wanted to fight on but put her family, career and peace of mind first.
“I have made the decision to finally resolve this matter with the best interest of my kids at heart who do not want to see their mom sacrifice her personal well-being in this fight,” she said. “I need to move past the stress and emotional toll of the last several years and focus on the things I love, my kids and all the opportunities to come in my career.”
Previously turned down a deal
The case hinged on where Shakira, now 46, lived during that period. Prosecutors in Barcelona have alleged that the Colombian singer spent more than half of that period in Spain and therefore should have paid taxes on her worldwide income in the country even though her official residence was still in the Bahamas. Tax rates are much lower in the Bahamas than in Spain.
The multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy winner waved and blew a kiss to a small crowd of bystanders before entering the courthouse. She briefly sat in front of the panel of judges, flanked by teams of prosecutors on one side and the defence on the other.
“This has been a difficult decision that took time to reach,” defense lawyer Miriam Company told reporters. “Her legal team had prepared the trial and were convinced we could demonstrate her innocence, but the circumstances changed and [Shakira] opted to accept the deal.”
Shakira turned down a deal offered to her by prosecutors to settle her case in July 2022.
Shakira’s public relations firm had previously said that she had already paid all that she owed and an additional 3 million euros (about $4.5 million Cdn) in interest.
Separate case pending
Shakira was named in the “Paradise Papers” leaks that detailed the offshore tax arrangements of numerous high-profile individuals, including musical celebrities such as Madonna and U2’s Bono.
The investigating judge in the case, Marco Juberias, wrote in 2021 on the conclusion of a three-year probe into the charges that he found there existed “sufficient evidence of criminality” for the case to go to trial. Shakira defended her innocence when she was questioned by Juberias in 2019.
She lost an appeal to have the case thrown out last year.
In Spain, an investigative judge carries out an initial probe and decides either to throw the case out or send it to trial. A court can waive prison time for first-time offenders if they are sentenced to less than two years behind bars.
Shakira, whose full name is Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, has two children, Milan and Sasha, with Barcelona soccer star Gerard Pique. The couple lived together in Barcelona before ending their 11-year relationship last year. Since then, she has resided in Miami.
In a separate investigation, Spanish state prosecutors charged Shakira in September with alleged evasion of 6.7 million euros in tax ($10 million Cdn) on her 2018 income. They accused her of using an offshore company based in a tax haven to avoid paying the tax.
Spain has cracked down on soccer stars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo over the past decade for not paying their full taxes. The former Barcelona and Real Madrid stars were found guilty of evasion but both avoided prison time after their sentences were suspended.