Four days before the away game in Bilbao, Cristiano Ronaldo had to take care of an important private matter. On Jan. 12, 2010, his lawyers and a mediator sat together with a young American woman who claims to have been raped by the professional football player for Real Madrid. They were seeking an out-of-court settlement.
Portuguese attorney Carlos Osório de Castro, who has advised Ronaldo on all his legal matters for years, also attended the appointment with Susan K., whose name has been changed for this story, and her lawyer. He informed his client in a text message about the current state of negotiations.
"The mediator now says that she has broken out in tears and that she is shaken because she thinks you're not interested in this matter and are someplace else altogether," Osório de Castro wrote: "So far, there has been no talk about money, but that's coming."
Ronaldo answered, "OK."
On April 14, DER SPIEGEL reported about the rape allegation lodged by Susan K. against Ronaldo. The case created a stir. The agency of Ronaldo's adviser Jorge Mendes released a statement claiming that the story was "journalistic fiction" that was based "on documents which are unsigned and where the parties are not identified."
But that statement is false.
DER SPIEGEL is in possession of the document outlining the out-of-court settlement between Susan K. and Ronaldo. It originates from the trove of data supplied by the whistleblower platform Football Leaks. In the documents, Ronaldo also appears under the codename "Topher." A "Confidential Side Letter Agreement" states the pseudonym refers to the football player. And: The paper is signed by Ronaldo. There's no reason to doubt the document's authenticity.
Documents that reveal Ronaldo's alias in the settlement agreement
The text messages exchanged between Ronaldo and lawyer Osório de Castro, of which DER SPIEGEL is in possession, also substantiate that the football player already knew in 2010 what he had been accused of in Las Vegas -- and that he was very interested in the details of the agreement, especially the financial particularities.
Forty-seven minutes after the first SMS, Ronaldo received a second message from Las Vegas. This time, it was just a number: "950,000 dollars." It appears to be the sum that the counterparty was seeking in compensation. Ronaldo wrote back: "That's the amount?"
Osório de Castro answered: "That is the first demand: That's 660,000 euros. We won't accept it. The negotiations are continuing."
Ronaldo then asked: "Is that too much?" Osório de Castro replied: "I think so. I think we'll close this for less."
Ronaldo then demanded: "It has to be less!" His lawyer replied: "OK."
The messages between Ronaldo and the lawyer provide several insights. First, when it comes to his career, Ronaldo doesn't leave anything to chance. Second, the football star monitors his money very closely. And finally, even today, those close to Ronaldo do not shy away from trying to cover up events that took place during the summer of 2009.
The agency of Ronaldo adviser Jorge Mendes is called Gestifute and it is headquartered in Porto, Portugal. In the firm's statement about the case in Las Vegas, released on April 14 in response to the SPIEGEL article, it seeks to discredit the presumed victim. It notes that Susan K. "refuses to come forward and confirm the veracity of the accusation."
But it's a deceitful statement because K. is prohibited from speaking out about the matter.
The out-of-court settlement between Ronaldo and K. clearly stipulates that she is not permitted to repeat the allegations against the football player -- especially publicly. If she violates the agreement, she is required to pay back the settlement she received from Ronaldo in addition to possible damages.
It's possible that this is the reason Susan K. declined to speak with DER SPIEGEL about what is alleged to have happened inside Ronaldo's suite or about the agreement that was negotiated between her and the world-famous football star seven months after that night in Las Vegas.
The exchange of text messages between Ronaldo and Osório de Castro suggest that the settlement negotiations in Las Vegas were protracted. In one, he wrote to his client: "We are finally finalizing this after 12 hours for 260,000 euros. On top of that will be the costs for mediation that I already told you about, plus a few payments to the lawyers who are now trying to formalize the transaction. I know that is a lot of money, but I think it was the best way out -- and it also wasn't easy to get at all."
Ronaldo has vehemently denied the rape allegation. His Munich lawyer Johannes Kreile informed DER SPIEGEL the week before last that, "We categorically reject the accusations raised" by Susan K.
Why, then, did Ronaldo need a "way out" in 2010?
A few days after DER SPIEGEL published its original story, the soccer star posted a photo of himself. It shows him diagonally from behind, wearing nothing but underwear. Ronaldo is standing in front of a door or a window, with his legs apart and hands on his hips. A hero's pose. One could interpret the image as a statement.
Ronaldo is fond of using images to communicate. For the most part, he likes to present himself as the strongman, the king of the pitch. In one recent photograph, he appears together with fellow Real Madrid players showing off their muscles. Ronaldo, of course, has the biggest biceps.
One does not become a global football star without boundless perseverance. Ronaldo scored five goals in the two recent Champions League quarter-final matches against Bayern Munich. He is a great football player and earns around 40 million euros a year at Real Madrid. He owns a private plane. But it's also possible that Ronaldo is a person who, despite all the success, is never truly at peace with himself. It appears that he constantly has something to prove.
His behavior in 2009, the year in which he transferred from Manchester United to Real Madrid for what was then a record sum of 94 million euros, also indicates as much. Ronaldo spent his summer vacation that year in the United States, where he partied a lot. He enjoyed the nightlife in Los Angeles, met up with other celebrities and then took a short trip to Las Vegas.
He met Susan K. in the VIP area of a club. They partied together and later wound up at Ronaldo's suite at the Palms Place Hotel. What happened there, the alleged rape, is detailed in a letter that K. wrote to Ronaldo months later. DER SPIEGEL has a copy of it. The football player disputes Susan K.'s account of events. A document his lawyers introduced during the mediation on January 12, 2010, presents his version of events that night in Las Vegas. It claims that what took place was consensual sex.
So why did Ronaldo then agree to pay a sum of money to K.? Was he blackmailed? Was he himself the victim? Did the man who always seems to emerge victorious pay in order to prevent the potential unpleasantness that a court case might have created?
It would be easy to lay the blame at the feet of Susan K., as a woman whose sole intent was to land a famous football player. Professional players are idolized. And are there not tons of women who would love to spend a night with Ronaldo? He's an attractive man widely viewed as a sex symbol.
Susan K. did flirt with Ronaldo. She gave him her number. She went to Ronaldo's suite. The two kissed. She described all that in the letter that she wrote one year after the night in the Palm Place Hotel. When he wanted more, she said "no." When he then grabbed her, as she alleges, and forced her onto the bed in the bedroom, she claims to have said "no" again.
No means no.
In the letter to Ronaldo, Susan K. describes in detail what she claims the football player did to her. She claims that he anally raped her.
Did Susan K. really make all that up to swindle a European superstar?
American lawyer Gloria Allred of Los Angeles is an expert on sexual assault cases. She is currently representing the alleged sexual abuse victims of Bill Cosby as well as women claiming to have been harassed by Donald Trump. "Very often the victims do not go to the police or to a lawyer at all," Allred says.
K., though, did notify the police -- on the day of the alleged crime, at 2:16 p.m. DER SPIEGEL has a copy of the transcript of the call. She permitted officers who came to her place to drive her to the University Medical Center, where she underwent a "rape kit" -- a special examination for victims of sexual assaults that entails securing any possible evidence and photographing injuries.
DER SPIEGEL is also in possession of the results of that examination. It first notes how Susan K. described the alleged sequence of events. It notes that the alleged perpetrator is a "well-known celebrity," and that she did not provide his name. Subsequently, the doctors examined the patient. They noted swelling and a "laceration" in her anal region. They gave Susan K. Zithromax and Rocephin, two antibiotics. Afterward, they sent her to Rape Crisis, a counseling center for victims of sexual assault.
Why didn't K. take Ronaldo to court? Why didn't she press charges against him? Why did she choose to take the path of an out-of-court settlement?
It's common procedure in the United States for victims of alleged sexual assault to agree to out-of-court settlements negotiated by lawyers with the suspected perpetrator.
Not everyone is a fan of the system. Indeed, it's disconcerting that a person who is potentially guilty can simply buy their way out of it. Nor does it sound very reasonable that the victim would be satisfied with this kind of compensation. Surely, this kind of agreement, which looks more like a deal, does little to help resolve an alleged crime, because it in no way delves into what has happened. No investigation takes place and there is no judge to administer justice in the end. What actually happened remains in the dark.
Despite this, American lawyer Allred says that out-of-court settlements "are often the best way for all parties." "At all costs, the celebrities want to prevent the matter from becoming public." And, anyway, she says, the victims would have "little chance" of winning in court because the opposing parties usually hire a "whole army of attorneys."
It appears that K. shied away from a trial because she feared the publicity the case would attract. In talks with Ronaldo's lawyers, Susan K.'s lawyer is alleged to have suggested that her client was "scared that something is going to happen to her." She apparently feared Ronaldo's fans might "do something" to her.
But as the documents that DER SPIEGEL has been able to view indicate, she did want to punish Ronaldo. She wanted him to at least pay a lot of money for her silence.
"A-list celebrities are usually able to pay a lot of money," says Gloria Allred. "But the sum varies from case to case. It is based on the facts. How strong is the evidence? How hard is the victim impacted by the crime; in physical, psychological, as well as in economic terms? How well are these damages documented by experts?"
Those are precisely the kinds of questions that were debated during the mediation in Las Vegas on January 12, 2010. In the end, the parties agreed that Ronaldo had to pay Susan K. a sum of $375,000.
In the course of its reporting, DER SPIEGEL found that Ronaldo's lawyers decided to conduct the transfer of $375,000 from an account belonging to a firm called Tollin. The company is registered on the British Virgin Islands, a well-known tax haven in the Caribbean. The invoices from Ronaldo's lawyers went to the firm Multisports & Image Management (MIM), which is located in Ireland, also a tax haven. Tollin and MIM have administered Ronaldo's earnings from advertising and sponsoring deals for years.
Thus, it appears that Ronaldo paid for the Las Vegas case using money earned from sponsors. A request for comment by DER SPIEGEL on the matter went unanswered.
So far, Ronaldo has not made any personal remarks about the events in Las Vegas. The statement issued by his adviser Mendes' sports management agency Gestifute does make reference to the letter written by Susan K. This "alleged letter" from the "so-called victim," it states, "was never received" by Ronaldo.
But if that's true, then the people working on Ronaldo's behalf would have violated one of the clauses of the out-of-court agreement. It stipulates that the letter in which the American describes events from her point of view -- and in which she accuses Ronaldo and also alleges that he ruined her life -- must be read to the football player within two weeks of receipt.
The U.S. lawyers then reminded Ronaldo's attorney Osório de Castro of precisely that stipulation. "By my calculation," one female lawyer wrote to her colleagues, "tomorrow is two weeks since the letter was delivered to you. Accordingly, please confirm if the letter has been read to Topher."
An hour later, Osório de Castro answered: "I confirm that the letter has been read to Topher by me."