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Tax authorities are investigating 181 footballers at 51 Premier League and Football League clubs in a huge probe into alleged tax avoidance arising from image rights management schemes.
In addition, HM Revenue & Customs is investigating 21 football agents, according to a report in The Sun, having recovered £300 million from similar schemes over the last two years.
Authorities in Spain and Portugal have led a wave of investigations and prosecutions into tax liabilities arising from image rights, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho both seeking to settle claims. Meanwhile, last year Lionel Messi avoided jail by paying €12 million (£10.3 million) in back-taxes.
‘We are clear that everyone must pay their fair share of tax,’ an HMRC spokesperson told the paper. ‘HMRC is relentless in pursuing those who don’t play by the rules.’
No individual was named as part of the investigation. Licensing personal images to advertisers has long been a lucrative sideline for stars of the sport, with Wayne Rooney earning £18 million from the practice.
Tax authorities in the UK are thought to have given the go ahead for clubs to pay 20% of wages tax-free in image rights since 2014. However, it is believed that some have taken this as high as 60%.