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Shakira's tax fraud case: What is known about the charges and potential 8-year prison sentence

·4 min read

Colombian pop singer Shakira could face up to eight years in prison in a case where Spanish prosecutors have accused her of tax fraud. 

Shakira, whose full name is Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, is facing six charges alleging she failed to pay the Spanish government nearly $15 million in taxes between 2012 and 2014. The prosecutors said they would also seek a fine of $24.5 million.

The singer "trusts her innocence and chooses to leave the issue in the hands of the law," her public relations firm Llorente y Cuenca said in a July 27 statement.

Here's everything to know about the pending tax fraud case:

Will Shakira go to trial for tax evasion?

Shakira's tax fraud case is expected to go to trial after the 45-year-old singer rejected a settlement deal offered by prosecutors. A trial date has not been set yet.

Prosecutors in Barcelona said on July 29, 2022 that they would seek a prison sentence of more than eight years against global music superstar Shakira.
Prosecutors in Barcelona said on July 29, 2022 that they would seek a prison sentence of more than eight years against global music superstar Shakira.

If she is convicted, prosecutors are asking the court to hand down a sentence of eight years and two months.

A judge can waive prison time for first-time offenders if they are sentenced to less than two years behind bars.

Tax fraud case: Spanish prosecutors seek 8-year jail sentence for singer Shakira

When was Shakira accused of tax fraud?

Prosecutors charged Shakira with tax evasion in December 2018, alleging she failed to pay millions in taxes to the Spanish government between 2012 and 2014.

Shakira listed the Bahamas as her official residence for tax purposes during those years, but prosecutors say she was in fact living in Spain with her now-ex partner, Spanish soccer player Gerard Piqué, father of her two children.

Shakira charged: Spanish court hits singer with multi-million dollar tax evasion suit in Spain

What has Shakira said about the tax fraud trial?

Shakira testified before a judge in 2019 as part of an investigation into her alleged tax evasion and denied any wrongdoing. Her PR firm said she immediately paid what she owed with interest once she was informed of the debt by the tax office.

The case hinges on where she lived during the years in question.

Previously: Shakira denies any wrongdoing in Spanish tax fraud case

The court denied her appeal in May and recommended trial.

Spanish Judge Marco Juberías wrote that his three-year probe found there existed “sufficient evidence of criminality” for the case to go to trial.

What is Shakira's tax dispute about?

Experts think this case is about the meaning of the word "resident" under Spanish tax law.

It comes down to counting how many days in a year a person has lived in Spain – one day, 50 days, 365 days? – before being considered a "tax resident," says Douglas S. Stransky, a partner in Boston-based firm Sullivan & Worcester who practices international tax law.

"Is one considered a resident of a country by buying a house in that country even if that person is only there for four days?" Stransky says. "I think in this case it is true that Shakira did spend time in Spain, but the real question is whether she spent enough time there so as to be considered a tax resident of the country."

How do other entertainers avoid international tax issues?

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Tax lawyers help Shakira and other global performers figure out where they owe taxes based on their citizenship, where they live most of the time and where they perform in any given year, says international tax law expert Kevin E. Thorn, managing partner of Thorn Law Group in Washington.

Thorn thinks Spanish authorities may not fully understand the complex interplay between different countries' laws and international treaties when it comes to taxes.

"They're rushing to judgment without all the facts and without understanding all the laws that could come into play here," says Thorn, a former IRS lawyer. "They're trying to pressure her to come to the table without all the facts being out there."

Why is Spain threatening Shakira with prison?

So far, Spanish authorities have not presented any evidence publicly to suggest Shakira committed a tax crime as opposed to a tax mistake.

Thorn says he believes prosecutors haven't helped their case for a quick settlement by publicly threatening Shakira with prison before a trial. "If a mistake was made (about her taxes), her lawyers will fix it, but I'm not sure it's a criminal matter," Thorn says.

As in the U.S., Stransky says, most tax disputes in Spain are civil matters, not criminal matters.

"Most of the time in cases like this, the government doesn’t go the criminal route," Stransky says. "My guess is that (Spanish authorities) are trying to pressure her into settling the case by (deploying) the bad publicity and the threat of jail."

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Shakira's tax fraud trial: How many years in prison could she face?