As Paul Pogba celebrated a win in the World Cup for France, the rest of his Manchester United team was making their way to the United States. The club was on their way to play five matches, kicking off with a friendly on Thursday, July 19. Pogba wasn’t the only noticeable high-profile absence: The Red Devils were also missing Alexis Sánchez. The forward was reportedly denied access to the United States due to a tax fraud conviction.
In 2016, Spanish authorities accused Sánchez of committing tax fraud. They alleged that Sánchez set up offshore companies in Chile and Malta to avoid paying tax on nearly $1 million between 2012 and 2013. At the time, Sánchez denied the charges. However, earlier this year, he was found guilty of two counts of tax fraud linked to concealing income from his image rights. As punishment, Sánchez was sentenced to 16 months in prison and fined. In Spain, those who receive a light prison sentence do not usually serve time unless the offense involves a violent crime or if the defendant is a habitual offender. Typically, a light sentence is one under two years, which means that he will only serve probation.
If that sounds like a familiar story, it is. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano were both accused of failing to pay taxes on income tied to image rights. Like Sánchez, both were sentenced to a fine and a prison sentence of less than two years. As with Sánchez, neither will spend time in jail because of the length of the sentence and the type of crime.
(To check out a list of additional World Cup players accused of tax issues, click here.)
What seemed like a problem that he could now put behind him may have turned into something more. Officially, Sánchez was not allowed to travel with the team because of what a spokesperson dubbed “a personal administrative issue.” However, according to a tweet posted by the BBC Sport’s Simon Stone, the problem was a visa issue related to the tax charges.
According to Philadelphia area international law attorney (and soccer dad) J. Christopher Erb, there can be a lot of factors at play when a person is denied entry to the country. However, the issue is likely related to Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act which states, in part, that entry to the country can be denied to “any alien convicted of, or who admits having committed, or who admits committing acts which constitute the essential elements of (I) a crime involving moral turpitude (other than a purely political offense) or an attempt or conspiracy to commit such a crime.” According to Erb, “Fraud is the classic ‘obvious’ case of moral turpitude.”
(And yes, Erb is not such a common name that the interview was coincidental. That is my husband.)
There are exceptions to the rule—typically based on age, length of sentencing and type of offense—but none of those appear to apply here.
So what’s next? Erb says that it’s likely that Sánchez would have to apply for a waiver to be allowed into the country. With a waiver, otherwise ineligible applicants may obtain a visa; however, applicants must generally qualify under the waiver provisions of the Immigration and Naturalization Act.
That sounds like what’s happening, as the club has suggested that Sánchez would be joining the rest of the players shortly. However, a request for confirmation made to the club was not immediately returned.
In the meantime, the club will still be a draw in the United States, even without Sánchez. The popular team is tops on Forbes’ World’s Most Valuable Soccer Teams for the second consecutive year, with a value of $4.12 billion, up from $3.69 billion last year.
The tale could turn out to be a cautionary one for other European players. Former Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, the third-highest-paid athlete in the world, is due in the country later this summer as part of the U.S. tour for his new team, Juventus. Like Sánchez, Ronaldo was accused of tax fraud. He agreed to plead guilty to four counts of tax fraud in exchange for a fine and a light sentence. For visa purposes, there is no distinction between a plea and a conviction.