BARCELONA, Spain (AP) —Pop star Shakira struck a last-minute deal on the opening day of her tax fraud trial in Barcelona to avoid the risk of going to prison. But this was not made without having maintained her innocence for nearly five years.
Shakira told the presiding magistrate, José Manuel del Amo, on Monday that she accepted the agreement reached with prosecutors. She answered “yes” to confirm her acknowledgment of six counts of failing to pay the Spanish government EUR14.5 million in taxes between 2012 and 2014.
The trial, which was expected to include more than 100 witnesses over several weeks, was instead called off after just eight minutes.
Under the deal, Shakira is to receive a suspended three-year sentence and to pay a fine of EUR7.3 million in addition to the previously unpaid taxes and interest. She will pay another fine of EUR432,000 in exchange for having her prison sentence waived.
However, she now has it on her legal record that she was found guilty of tax fraud, which could affect another pending tax case.
The fraud allegations had hinged on where Shakira, now 46, lived during 2012-14. Prosecutors in Barcelona alleged the Colombian singer spent more than half of that period in Spain and therefore should have paid taxes on her worldwide income there even though her official residence was still in the Bahamas. Tax rates are much lower in the Bahamas than in Spain.
Prosecutors said in July that they would seek a prison sentence of eight years and two months and a fine of EUR24 million for the singer, who has won over a fans around the global with 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.”
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,” defence 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, saying, via her Spanish public relations firm Llorente y Cuenca, that she “believes in her innocence and chooses to leave the issue in the hands of the law.” The details of that potential deal were not made public.
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.
Shakira’s public relations firm had previously said that she had already paid all that she owed and an additional EUR3 million in interest.
The defence team for Shakira, the Barcelona firm Molins Defensa Penal, said in November 2022 that she had not spent more than 60 days a year inside the country during the period in question, adding she would have needed to have spent half the year in Spain to be considered a fiscal resident. Her defence argued that she was away from Barcelona for long stretches on a world tour in 2011 and then spent a lot of time in the United States as part of a jury for the NBC television music talent show The Voice.
Spanish prosecutors disagreed, and the investigating judge, Marco Juberías, 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 Juberías in 2019.
She lost an appeal to have the case thrown out last year.
Shakira established her fiscal residency in Spain in 2014 at the same time her oldest child was enrolled in school in Barcelona, according to her defence team, as she was going to spend more time in the country with her family.
In Spain, an investigative judge carries out an initial probe and decides either to throw the case out or send it to trial.
Her troubles with Spain’s tax office are not over, though.
In a separate investigation, Spanish state prosecutors charged Shakira in September with alleged evasion of EUR6.7 million in taxes on her 2018 income. They accused her of using an offshore company based in a tax haven to avoid paying the taxes.
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.
Shakira, whose full name is Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, has two children, Milan and Sasha, with Barcelona soccer star Gerard Piqué. The couple lived together in Barcelona before ending their 11-year relationship last year. Since then, she has resided in Miami.
After triumphing at the Latin Grammy Awards gala in Seville on Thursday, Shakira thanked her fans in Spain for “being with me in the good times and the bad.”