Shakira takes a seat in front of the microphone. She is wearing a white T-shirt and black pants. “I really want to talk,” she says. She is going to do just that, non-stop, for 80 minutes. She lets her guard down in the courtroom, displaying a range of emotions that she modulates with her voice and gestures: love, nostalgia, enthusiasm, but also anger and indignation. All to convince those who are listening to her in silence, especially the judge, that until 2015 she did not have a habitual residence in Spain and could not be treated as a tax resident. It is June 6, 2019. In a small, shabby courtroom that is part of an apartment complex in Esplugues de Llobregat (Barcelona), the Colombian singer testifies as the defendant, over charges that she defrauded the Spanish tax authorities of €14.5 million ($15.9 million).
Four years have passed since that day in court, and Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll’s life has taken a turn: she has separated from her partner, ex-soccer player Gerard Piqué, and lives in Miami with her children. But the criminal proceedings are still there, looming over her and her family. With a trial just around the corner (beginning in November), in which the prosecution has requested more than eight years in prison for the singer, EL PAÍS has been given access to the contents of a testimony that brings us closer than ever to the music star’s personality and her personal life.
“I was blowing up worldwide, I was living on a plane”
According to the Spanish tax authorities, since 2011 Shakira’s home and business center was in Spain, where she spent more than of the year, so she should be considered a tax resident and pay taxes. This is the basis of the prosecution’s case, which in addition to a prison sentence demands the payment of a stratospheric fine: €23.7 million ($25.9 million). In her statement to the court, the artist is vehement in her denial. All that time, she says, she did nothing but work and travel, with nothing that tied her to Spain beyond the incipient relationship with Piqué. “I was a nomad, a person with no roots and no stability. I traveled at such an intense pace that I was in three different countries in the same day. It’s one of the highest prices I’ve had to pay for my career,” she says. Following the success of her song Waka Waka for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa (where she met Piqué), she completed her Sale el sol world tour in 2011. She later joined The Voice TV show in the United States. “My music was blowing up worldwide in those years. I was everywhere, I spent more time on an airplane than any pilot.”
“I wasn’t going to the Bahamas to appease Gerard’s jealousy”
More in the air than on land, Shakira lists the countries with which she has had close ties. She gave a statement to the court in which she answered questions from her lawyer at the time — she has had three over the years — and did not allow questions from the prosecutor’s office. The objective of her testimony was to make it clear that Spain was never on her list of priorities. She cites the United States (“It was my springboard to the rest of the world and is my business center,” she says) Colombia (her native country and where part of her family lives) and the Bahamas, which plays a key role in this drama. “I needed a place to find myself again, separate from the public persona,” she says. On a trip to Nassau, capital of the Bahamas archipelago, she went to a studio where artists such as “Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin and Julio Iglesias” had recorded. “I fell in love with the island and stayed. It gave me a privacy I couldn’t find in another country, and I had the advantage of being 20 minutes away from the United States.” In 2004 she bought a house in Nassau where she lived with her then partner, Antonio de la Rúa. Three years later, the Bahamas granted her a permanent residence permit.
Since the Spanish Public Prosecutor’s Office filed a complaint against the singer, her defense has used the permit as proof that she was a tax resident in the archipelago. But the Spanish tax authorities have dismantled the alibi with the argument that it is a certificate that the authorities of that country issue to those who buy a house of a certain value, regardless of whether they reside there. In the statement, Shakira admits that, “unfortunately,” she did not live in the Bahamas during the period under suspicion (she settled 2011 in administrative proceedings, but 2012, 2013 and 2014 are the ones that have ended up in criminal proceedings). She could not live there for two reasons. First, her musical career was taking off. And the second, her blossoming relationship with Piqué, then a Barça (F.C. Barcelona) defender and resident of Barcelona.
“I start dating him and, if I had a little free time, I preferred to see him and not go to the Bahamas and run into my ex.” By then, De la Rúa was still frequenting the Nassau house, where they both had “a lot of memories.” “It was a situation that was not at all funny to Gerard. So, [I did it] to appease his jealousy, which was natural because we weren’t in an solid relationship. There was a lot of insecurity on both sides and the wounds with my previous partner were still open,” she explains with ease to questions from her lawyer and addressing the judge. But that does not at all mean that she had settled in Spain, or even that she spent the 183 days of the year (half of the year plus one day) required by law to be considered a tax resident here. An assertion that the Spanish tax agency has also tried to discredit with a detailed calendar of those years that it has submitted to the court.
“Our relationship was turbulent”
For love, Shakira started visiting Barcelona and making the city a part of her itinerary. But the couple’s shift from casual to official relationship was gradual and plagued with obstacles due to their professional commitments, according to her statement. Shakira smiles tenderly when she remembers those first moments, with little time to see each other and a lot of desire to do so. “I was besotted with him. I remember flying from Marrakesh to Croatia. We were flying over Barcelona and I asked the pilot if we could land briefly just so I could give Gerard a kiss. It’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever done in my life. I don’t know if the [tax] agency would have considered it a day in Spain”, the artist says in a barbed comment aimed at the tax authorities. Shakira also bought a house in Perpignan, in the south of France, “away from the hustle and bustle of the paparazzi” that followed her in Barcelona, but only a stone’s throw from Catalonia. “I wanted to be close to Gerard.” She also describes the relationship in the early years as not having been easy.
“In 2011, when I started dating him, we hardly saw each other. [He] was 23 years old, 10 years younger than me. Soccer player, handsome, with a playboy reputation... He was a wild child at the time. Right now, he’s a great guy, but back then he was crazy, and I had no guarantee that things were going to work out, or that we were going to start a family. I never imagined I was going to live in this country because of that kid with the beard who looked amazing, but well, no more.” So the artist continued to do her own thing and, beyond visiting her boyfriend, she did not change her habits. “I didn’t make any sacrifices for him at the time, I didn’t know what this guy wanted with me. Maybe he wanted to have a good time and it wasn’t long term.” Shakira considers it “absurd” that, at the time, the Spanish authorities considered her resident in Spain for tax purposes. “How could I sacrifice everything for a guy I was getting to know, cradle snatching,” she says with a chuckle. Before the judge, the singer confesses that, in 2012, the couple had a difficult time. “Our relationship was very turbulent, it was a Dragon Khan [a roller coaster at the Port Aventura amusement park in Tarragona, Spain], because our professional lives didn’t match, it was like putting oil and water together. I was a globetrotter and he had a schedule to keep. We didn’t understand each other very well, and I hope this doesn’t leak to the press.”
“The tax authorities’ vision is sexist and retrograde”
These alleged ups and downs did not prevent the couple from deciding to have children shortly after. Their firstborn, Milan, was born on January 22, 2013 in Barcelona. But motherhood did not persuade Shakira to put down roots in Spain: her entire statement is aimed at proving that she did not live here and did not have to pay taxes. “It’s hard to understand, but during pregnancy I was working 14 hours a day. I remember being on stage with my big belly, doing those moves that I do... I guess I looked ridiculous,” she laughs. “I scheduled the C-section because I had a contract with The Voice. I went into the delivery room with makeup on. I gave birth and took my newborn child with me. I carried him everywhere with me, like those indigenous mothers who carry their children on their backs. I breastfed him on the set of the show every three hours.”
Not keeping quiet about her private life, she also outlines what it means to be a superstar and a mother. “My son was a wonderful discovery in life, but my work was still my priority.” In short, she says, nothing has changed. She would have wanted her son to be born in the United States but agreed to Piqué's request. “For Gerard it was a bone of contention. At the time [Milan] was about to be born, Gerard was in the middle of Barça’s season, and they weren’t going to give him permission [to take paternity leave]. Being present at the birth was very important to him.” About the Barça player, she states that he “had to adapt to the whirlwind” that was the singer’s life at the time and see less of his son than he would haved liked to. “He never demanded anything from me, he knew me as a global artist.” Her only link to Spain was him.
In its report, the tax authorities conclude that the fact that she became a mother is a strong indication of her acquired residence in Spain. Shakira refutes that idea. “It’s a retrograde and somewhat mysoginist view. To think that, because a woman has a child with a Spaniard, we must automatically assume the traditional concept of family...” The singer wonders aloud what would have happened if the sexes had been reversed. “I don’t know if Bono [the singer] would be sitting here, charged in criminal proceedings with such serious consequences for me, my family and my children,” she complains.
"Gerard had a super tense relationship with Guardiola"
In her exculpatory account, Shakira adds another layer of armor: she could not even think of living in Spain because her partner’s professional future was up in the air for a long time. And Piqué was the “only” link she had with Spain (much of her statement pivots on that idea). “Gerard had quite a difficult relationship with Barça. And I had a very tense relationship with Guardiola, an ‘either you go, or I go’ relationship. It was a situation that caused him a lot of suffering,” she explains. The singer says that Piqué considered other options for his soccer career, such as returning to Manchester United, but when Luis Enrique arrived at Camp Nou, he warned the player that he would “spend a lot of time warming the bench.” Shakira says, in short, that she would have lived in the city where Piqué ended up playing. And she downplays the fact that she bought a house in Barcelona. She does not see it as a sign of bonding, but as just another transaction. “I buy houses in places and that is not a commitment for me. I have houses in Uruguay, New York, Miami, Barranquilla, Nassau and Barcelona. I like them because it is the most comfortable way to stay, when I go to visit I prefer to be in a house. Even during tours, I rent houses, it’s private and more comfortable.”
With Pique’s future clear following his renewal with FC Barcelona, and with the couple’s second child on the way (Sasha was born in Barcelona in January 2015), Shakira finally considered living in Spain. “Milan was going to school and things changed. At the moment we are a stable family, although we will never be a completely conventional couple,” says the artist, who criticizes the Spanish tax authorities for moving “the image” of 2019 to the period 2011-2014. At the time of the statement, she says, Shakira is “just another mom”: “I pick up my kids from school, I go to [the children’s] activities...”
"Being in Spain is a huge sacrifice for my career"
In the calendar provided to the investigation, the tax authorities argue that there is evidence to believe that Shakira was in Spain more than 183 days a year during all that time. She argues that she was not. “My only link was Gerard. I had nothing but a boyfriend here.” That was the case, she insists, until 2015, when she admits that she lived in Spain despite her reluctance because, she says, it was a drag on her career. “I didn’t feel like coming to Spain. It’s a beautiful country, but it’s not the center of the music industry. For me, being in Spain is a huge sacrifice for my professional success, because I don’t have the best in artistic production, which is in the United States.” She illustrates this with a reverse example. “It’s like asking Gerard to go to Barranquilla to play for Junior. For love,” she jokes. Giving the statement, and gesticulating very expressively, she laments the insignificance of Spain for the fortune she has accumulated in her career. “What Spain generates for me in terms of business, in terms of income, is miniscule; it can be compared to Turkey or Greece.”
“Thousands of people depend on my reputation”
“Here I am, with a legal problem in a country that generates almost none of my income,” Shakira insists in the last part of her statement. She is on the verge of tears as she explains the repercussions of the case for her and her entourage. “Honestly, your honor, I don’t know anyone who is subject to criminal proceedings for having a boyfriend. That’s why I feel it’s so unfair and surreal,” she says. Shakira recalls her professional career. She began singing and songwriting at the age of 13. “I’m a born worker, it’s how I was raised. I am hardworking.” She believes that the damage suffered is “irreparable,” and is concerned about the repercussions for the Barefoot Foundation, which she created when she was only 18 years old.
“[The foundation] works for children and education, we serve 7,000 children. It’s a project that is as important as my career or more,” she says. She believes that the judicial process has jeopardized her philanthropic work. “To maintain this work, I have to bring together people from the private and government sectors. And this trial is damaging my reputation and my credibility, on which thousands of people depend. It is one of the things that has hurt me the most, one of the most difficult things in these criminal proceedings.” “For me it has been devastating, and especially traumatic because of the children.” She found out that they had opened a tax inspection against her while she was in the United States, where she was undergoing treatment for her vocal cords and had to communicate by sign language because she could not even speak. And she demanded explanations as to how this could have happened.
“If they had told me, I would have become a resident from the start″
Shakira says she has never spared any expense in surrounding herself with the most competent people. She chose one of the “big four [accounting firms],” PriceWaterHouse. “I didn’t leave my affairs in the hands of inexperienced people or family members ... I hired the best.” She states that the consulting firm never warned her of any risk. “I was told that to be a Spanish tax resident I had to spend 183 days in Spain, which I didn’t.” When she learned that the tax authorities were demanding information, she also demanded full transparency from her advisors. And she adds that she has paid all the financial claims demanded by the Spanish tax authorities. “I paid for everything, down to the last peso. Money has never been the most important thing to me. There are other things [one can do] to be treated as an alleged delinquent,” she says, visibly hurt. At one point, she and Piqué went so far as to record a meeting with PwC. “My first reaction was anger. I wanted to know what I had been told all that time.” But her advisors insisted she was doing the right thing. And she still thinks so. “If someone had told me, I would have become a resident from the start. I am not interested in committing a crime to accumulate more money (...). There are things that come before money, like dignity.”
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