On Tuesday, a judge in Spain ruled that the Colombian singer and global superstar Shakira must stand trial over accusations of tax fraud. This development arrives after the singer and the Spanish government failed to reach an agreement this summer. In July, Shakira issued her first public statement on the matter: “The prosecutor’s office has resorted to wrongful means to apply pressure—just as they do daily and unjustly with thousands of taxpayers for profit.”
What are the charges?
The Spanish government has charged Shakira with defrauding the country of 14.5 million euros in taxes (roughly $13.9 million) between 2012 and 2014. Three separate government entities have accused her of six fiscal crimes. The crux of the argument lies in whether the singer lived in Spain during that time—or technically spent more than 183 days in the country—which would qualify her as a Spanish resident for tax purposes.
Shakira claims, however, that she was a resident of the Bahamas during that time period. She moved to Barcelona in 2015, where she lived with her then-partner Gerard Piqué, an FC Barcelona soccer player, until recently. The Spanish government first made accusations of tax fraud against the musician in 2018.
Technically, the state concluded its investigation in July 2021, but Shakira’s defense filed an appeal to try to stop the trial, which they lost. Had the defense accepted the plea and returned the money—essentially admitting guilt—the prosecution would have significantly reduced or dropped the prison sentence.
If convicted of all charges, the artist would face a jail sentence of eight years and two months as well as a fine of 23.7 million euros. The prosecutors have said that the alleged crimes are especially serious because they claim that Shakira used companies in tax havens to hide her income.
How has Shakira responded?
Shakira flatly denies all allegations of tax fraud. In an interview with Elle magazine last week, the Grammy winner said that she refused to settle with Spanish authorities because she could prove that she was not a resident of the country during that three-year timeframe.
“I have to fight for what I believe; because these are false accusations,” Shakira told Elle. “First of all, I didn’t spend 183 days per year at that time at all. I was busy fulfilling my professional commitments around the world.”
“Second, I’ve paid everything they claimed I owed, even before they filed a lawsuit,” she continued. “So as of today, I owe zero to them. And finally, I was advised by one of the four biggest tax specialist firms in the world, PricewaterhouseCoopers, so I was confident that I was doing things correctly and transparently from day one.”
The singer alleged that the prosecutors had enlisted a “salacious press campaign” to try to sway public opinion, and that they knew that reputational damage might coerce her into a settlement agreement.
“It is well known that the Spanish tax authorities do this often not only with celebrities like me (or [Cristiano] Ronaldo, Neymar, [Xabi] Alonso, and many more), it also happens unjustly to the regular taxpayer,” she said. “But I’m confident that I have enough proof to support my case and that justice will prevail in my favor.”
What happens next?
Both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi were found guilty of tax evasion, but neither went to prison due to a provision that allows a judge to waive sentences under two years for first-time offenders. A similar option had been on the table for Shakira: the two sides discussed lowering the prison sentence to two years and the prosecutors potentially agreeing to suspend the sentence’s execution. That option disappeared when the defense rejected the agreement.
Although a date has not yet been set for the trial, this decision marks a point of no return: There is no other option now than for Shakira to stand trial. The Barcelona judge, Ana Duro, has said that the trial will take place once she has received the necessary qualifying papers from both sides.
The possibility of reaching an agreement, however, does remain open until the day of the trial itself. And in the meantime, the judge has ruled that the singer will not face any precautionary measures, like house arrest.