An American woman goes to the police in Las Vegas. She claims she has been raped by an athlete: global football star Cristiano Ronaldo. What really happened has never been resolved because lawyers settled the case with a payment of $375,000 by the Real Madrid star. By SPIEGEL Staff
God is always on his side. Cristiano Ronaldo says he can feel it. “There is someone steering me.”
Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro, 32, born in the town of Funchal on the island of Madeira, baptized in the Santo António Church and blessed with talent. The global football star from Real Madrid often makes the sign of the cross after scoring a goal or gestures in a welcoming way toward the sky. For a time, he also wore rosary beads around his neck as a symbol of his piety. There are photos of Ronaldo with the prayer chain. It is white, the color of innocence.
One young woman who met Ronaldo in Las Vegas on June 12, 2009, has memories of the white prayer beads. The football player spent his vacation there together with his brother-in-law and a cousin. The American woman was a random acquaintance made during a long night of partying. It had been a flirt.
At some point the attractive woman and the famous striker landed in the bedroom of a suite at the Palms Place Hotel.
A police transcript states it happened early in the morning.
In a letter to Ronaldo that she drafted over one year after the encounter, Susan K. describes the events that supposedly took place in the bedroom that night. It is disturbing — a long, piercing scream.
In it, K. claims to have been raped by Ronaldo. “The white rosary” makes an appearance around midway through the letter. “You jumped on me from behind,” Susan K. writes, “with a white rosary on your neck!!” Two sentences containing questions and exclamation marks follow it:
“What would god think of that!!!”
“What would god think of you!!!”
DER SPIEGEL is in possession of a copy of the letter from Susan K. to Ronaldo. It is part of a trove of documents the whistleblower portal Football Leaks supplied to the newsmagazine. The letter, almost six pages long, is an angry indictment. But does K.’s depiction of events also represent the truth?
The content of the letter is a delicate issue — it has the potential to damage the reputation of one of the world’s most famous athletes. But given that Susan K.’s story could be true, it needs to be told, because it sheds light on a society in which some people appear to be able to get away with doing just about anything. It adds a previously unknown chapter to the legend of Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s a heroic saga, but also one that appears to be darker than many of his fans think.
A further document addresses what is alleged to have happened during the early morning hours on June 13, 2009, in Apartment 57306. It’s a “Settlement Memorialization,” an out-of-court deal between Susan K. and Ronaldo. Its details were worked out months after that night in Las Vegas. At least nine lawyers were involved.
The agreement, which includes 11 clauses, obliges Susan K. to never discuss anything that happened in the bedroom of that apartment. In it, she agrees to drop all criminal charges. Ronaldo has to pay her $375,000.
In the document, Susan K. is referred to with the abbreviation, “Ms. P,” and Ronaldo is “Mr. D.” Clause No. 8 states that, “Ms. P agrees to provide to Mr. D the first names of any persons to whom she has disclosed her allegation of rape and the identity of Mr. D … she further represents that there are no other persons to whom she has made disclosures.”
Clause 11 states that: “She shall also provide her certification that she has permanently destroyed or deleted any and all electronic, written or other materials generated or received as a result of the alleged events.”
It stipulates that she must pay back the money if she violates the agreement. She must also cover any actual damages caused to Ronaldo as a result of any indiscretion. Susan K. and several lawyers signed the agreement on January 12, 2010. Cristiano Ronaldo did not personally sign it. His Portuguese lawyer Carlos Osório de Castro, who has handled the football player’s legal matters for years, signed for him.
The document was to erase the dispute over events in Apartment 57306 at the Palms Place Hotel and sweep it under the carpet for good. What happened on the night between June 12 and 13 in Las Vegas was supposed to no longer have any effect on Ronaldo. It was meant to become a night in the life of the famous football player that never happened. One that couldn’t happen.
The question is whether it is prudent to not clarify disputes and accusations of this magnitude in court. Is it a good outcome if the legal system is skipped over and the parties involved extricate themselves from the affair by paying money?
In Germany, there is a requirement that all alleged crimes must be investigated if they are reported to the police. At the very least, the authorities have to seek to make this happen. The further removed you get from this principle, the greater the suspicions will become that the wealthy are able to do more than just hire the best lawyers — that they can also negotiate their transgressions away.
DER SPIEGEL attempted to interview Susan K., her family, her friends and her lawyer. Practically no one was willing to talk, and nobody wanted to be quoted. There are good reasons for this: Fear it will generate headlines. That the issue would bubble back to the surface. And, naturally, of the deal that was agreed to seven years ago. It stonewalls people.
Susan K., whose name has been changed to protect her identity, lives in a gated apartment complex in Las Vegas. She’s in her mid-30s and comes from an upper middle class family. Her parents’ home is located in one of the better parts of Las Vegas, with a carefully manicured front yard, a large garage and a grand view overlooking the city.
- was married in June 2009. She has since divorced and it is unclear what role her then-husband played in her life at the time. He isn’t mentioned anywhere in the documents and numerous emails in DER SPIEGEL’s possession. When first contacted by DER SPIEGEL at the end of March by telephone to discuss the letter and the deal with Ronaldo, her voice trembled. “No comment, no comment,” she said, before hanging up.
A few days later, during an encounter in front of her apartment, K. ran away almost in a panic. Clause No. 4 of the agreement with Ronaldo stipulates what she must do if third parties seek to speak to her about the events of June 2009. It states that she is to offer “no response.” If she is spoken to on the street, she must “walk away.” It’s as if her life is being steered by some invisible entity.
The Palms Place Hotel is located in Downtown Las Vegas, just a few blocks away from The Strip. It’s a 58-story building with upscale penthouse apartments filling four floors at the very top. Gold, marble and metallic lounge furniture dominate the lobby. Guests with expensive sunglasses and designer shoes emerge from luxury cars at the hotel’s entrance.
In 2009, the Palms hotel and casino complex was one of the hottest addresses in Las Vegas. Michael Jackson lived here, MTV held its Video Music Awards here and stars like Whitney Houston, Lady Gaga and Usher took advantage of the in-house recording studios.
Apartment 57306, where Ronaldo stayed, costs around $1,000 a night today. Its amenities include a kitchen, a large living room, two bedrooms with king size beds and adjoining luxury bathrooms. The icing on the cake is the Jacuzzi on the balcony that offers a view of the city’s skyline.
Ronaldo spent several days in the glamorous suite. It was the summer that he transferred from Manchester United to Real Madrid for the then record sum of 94 million euros.
On the night of June 12, a Friday, Ronaldo went out in Las Vegas with his companions. They partied in a nearby nightclub. Ronaldo met Susan K. in a sealed-off VIP area.
In the letter that she wrote to Ronaldo, K. describes what happened later that night of partying. She writes that she gave him her number. That he called her later and invited her to a party. Afterward, they went to his penthouse. When K. arrived together with a girlfriend, she writes that Ronaldo and his friends climbed into the Jacuzzi. And that he offered her swimwear. She claims that he followed her as she went to change, and that the two kissed. But K. writes that this wasn’t enough for Ronaldo. She writes that she wanted to go back to the others. She continues that he took her and put her on the bed. That she used both hands as she attempted to protect herself. “I screamed NO NO NO NO NO NOOOO over and over I begged you to stop. I was never so scared in my life,” K. writes in the letter.
After it was over, Ronaldo allegedly turned to her again and supposedly said 99 percent of the time he was a good guy, but that he doesn’t know what happened to that 1 percent. That’s what K. writes in her letter.
His lawyer categorically denies the rape allegation, dismissing it as a baseless claim.
But who is Cristiano Ronaldo?
No famous football player paints as distinct an image of himself as the global star from Portugal. When he poses with his legs spread apart after scoring a goal, with his chin extended and eyes sparkling in front of a cheering audience, his arms akimbo and every muscle taut, it is the staging of a man who feels he is supernatural. Perfect, omnipotent, unrivaled. God-like.
In her letter to Ronaldo, Susan K. writes: “I wish I could have told the world who you really are.”
But people around the world only know Ronaldo the footballer. His goals, his dribbling match play, his egotism. They know that he earns close to 40 million euros a year at Real Madrid. That he likes children. That he adores his mother. They saw him cry when he had to leave the pitch injured during the final of the European Championships in France last year. They remember his bliss when Portugal won the final match even without him. There’s more to Ronaldo than just a good striker. He’s an idol for a generation of youth, who copy each of his poses and tricks, and each of his haircuts. He’s an advertising icon. An airport is named after him on Madeira, where he is a native son. The Portuguese island is even home to a Ronaldo museum, with a larger-than-life statue of the idol located in front of it. The statue shows him in soccer shorts, his manhood absurdly exaggerated.
Ronaldo is a sex symbol. At the FIFA World Football Awards in Zürich in January, female fans screeched as he arrived. There are countless photos of the footballer wearing nothing but underwear. He loves his gym-sculpted body, which has also made him the admiration of many men.
It’s hard to say what role women play in his life. He’s had relationships and affairs. Ronaldo is currently in a relationship. He has a 6-year-old son, Cristiano Junior, from an unknown mother. The boy is at his side as often as possible.
Ronaldo was once already accused of rape by a woman in 2005. At the time, police questioned the then 20-year-old striker for Manchester United. He denied the allegations and charges were never filed.
Famous people are often subjected to blackmail and, ultimately, only Susan K. and Ronaldo know what happened during the early morning hours in his penthouse in Las Vegas.
She wrote her version down in the letter. DER SPIEGEL also requested a statement from Ronaldo. His answer came via his Munich-based lawyer Johannes Kreile. “We categorically reject the accusations raised in your questions,” the lawyer wrote. He added that his client would “take action against any untrue factual claims as well as any violation of his right to privacy.” The lawyer also demanded that DER SPIEGEL “desist from reporting” on the matter.
The documents reviewed by DER SPIEGEL include a memorandum that details what the footballer might have once told his lawyer Osório de Castro about the night in Las Vegas. It states that Ronaldo had sex with K. That he went to bed afterward. That she went back to the Jacuzzi. And that there had been no signs that she wasn’t doing well.
Was it consensual sex? Was K. playing a game later? One so good that Ronaldo’s lawyers decided not to take the case to court and to settle instead? What is known is that K. did contact the police at 2:16 p.m. on the day of the alleged attack. There’s a transcript of the call to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, of which DER SPIEGEL has obtained a printed copy. The computer-aided dispatch (CAD) report includes a case number that would also be cited later in the settlement between K. and Ronaldo.
The reason for the call is listed under the category “Type” in the CAD report. It’s 426, the code for reported sexual offenses.
The police who spoke to K. noted that the caller was crying and very upset and didn’t want to provide the name of the suspected perpetrator. The caller said the person in question was a “public figure,” an “athlete.” The officer noted that K. had not bathed.
Shortly after 2:30 p.m., a police car showed up at K.’s place. The police officers made several radio calls to police headquarters. There, an officer noted that the suspected victim wanted to go to the hospital to undergo a “rape-kit” forensic examination. It’s a special examination for victims of sexual assaults that entails securing any possible evidence and photographing injuries.
Shortly before 4 p.m., police took K. to the University Medical Center. The drive took 26 minutes. The CAD report states that, at 5:15 p.m., K. provided some vague information about the alleged scene of the crime. The location in question was a hotel “near Flamingo.”
The Palms Place Hotel is located on Flamingo Road.
The bill for the procedures she underwent at University Medical Center was $2,976.52. The documents that have been viewed by DER SPIEGEL do not specify precisely what that covered. In her letter to Ronaldo, K. wrote that he had injured her rectum that night.
It is not known whether K. filed charges after the examination at the hospital. The documents suggest that she may have distanced herself from the situation for fear of its possible consequences. A trial against a world-famous star would mean TV camera crews at her door. Many claims would be made and even though the outcome would be uncertain, she would have to live with the headlines for the rest of her life.
Perhaps K. didn’t want to subject herself or her family to that.
Nevertheless, it appears that K. didn’t want to let the issue rest either. She hired a lawyer. Attorney Mary S. — a pseudonym — who had a small law firm in an office complex in southern Las Vegas at the time. The building is surrounded by apartments and a retirement home. The events that her client would describe to her would push the lawyer to her limits over the months to come.
In mid-July, S. contacted one of Ronaldo’s lawyers in England. She wrote that she was representing a plaintiff in Las Vegas on an issue related to the football player. The lawyer then passed the mail on to Ronaldo lawyer Carlos Osório de Castro in Portugal.
“What do you think this is about?”
Osório answered: “No idea whatsoever.”
By the end of July, it had become clear that the issue at hand was indeed explosive. By that point, several lawyers were involved in the case, including a California-based attorney who had represented many celebrities in court. Ronaldo’s lawyers discussed the best way to proceed. One wrote in an email that they needed to view the suite in the Palms Place Hotel to get an image of the alleged crime scene.
A list containing 274 questions was drafted for Ronaldo. He was to answer them verbally, not in writing. In the document, Susan K. is given the initials “Ms. C.”
Question 60: “What were the circumstances of your first meeting Ms. C?”
Question 80: “Had Ms. C used drugs earlier that evening?”
Question 141: “What was the first physical contact between you and Ms. C after you had walked away from the area of hot tub?”
Question 152: “Was there any penetration sexually?”
Question 158: “Was there any roughness to the sexual conduct?”
Question 163: “Did Ms. C ever raise her voice, scream, or yell?”
Question 165: “Did Ms. C say any words like ‘stop’ or ‘no’ or ‘don’t’ or anything of that sort?”
Next there is a note from Ronaldo’s lawyers in bold letters. “Ms. C’s attorney told us that her client had said that after you had sex, you apologized to her profusely.”
Question 190: “Did you apologize to her or say you were sorry or anything of that sort after you had sexual intercourse”?
Question 270: “When Ms. C. left the hotel room, what was her demeanor, attitude, physical appearance, apparent mood and mental state?”
Ronaldo’s lawyers’ questions are often about the blonde woman who was with K. that night, also at Apartment 57306. She’s an important witness. DER SPIEGEL contacted her as well but, like Susan K., she is afraid to talk.
The first negotiations for an out-of-court settlement began in fall of 2009. In the U.S., cases of sexual assault are often resolved through settlements in which the victim and perpetrator agree that no trial will take place.
Sexual assault is the most serious crime in the state of Nevada after murder. If convicted, a person faces life in prison. But for a conviction to occur, guilt needs to be determined beyond reasonable doubt — and that is especially difficult with sex crimes. Often it’s one person’s testimony against that of another.
Many victims decide to pursue civil rather than criminal proceedings. The goal of the former is not to convict the alleged perpetrator but to indemnify the victim financially. The burden of proof is considerably lower in such proceedings. It only needs to be more than 50 percent likely that the alleged perpetrator committed the crime.
But a civil proceeding also has its drawbacks. Although the victim can apply for the case to be tried under a pseudonym, it is public and, of course, there is no guarantee that the person’s anonymity will remain protected.
For this reason, many victims decide to resolve their case out of court, for example by mediation, in which a neutral person acts as mediator. It then ends in a settlement agreement.
This kind of procedure can be advantageous for both sides. The identities of the perpetrators and victims can be protected. The entire process is shorter than a trial. The onerous details of the rape don’t necessarily have to be presented. In the case of K. versus Ronaldo, it took a long time for a mediation date to be arranged. In December 2009, Osório de Castro was informed that Susan K. planned to meet with a police officer — and that the investigators also wanted to talk to her female friend, the witness.
Osório de Castro pressed his U.S. colleague: “The clock is ticking and we must decide how to proceed and prepare for the battle.” The parties met on January 12, 2010. The mediator was also present. Ronaldo was not. This apparently made Susan K. distraught.
After “a long day,” as one of the lawyers later wrote, the parties then agreed on a settlement. The sum that Ronaldo was to pay to K. is written into the settlement memorialization: $375,000. At that point in time, that’s how much Ronaldo earned at Real Madrid in a week.
The lawyers continued fine-tuning the agreement into the summer months, haggling over paragraphs, clauses and formulations. One issue that arose, for example, was how K. was to behave in her therapy. Ronaldo’s lawyers demand that she should not take part in group sessions and should not share the name Ronaldo with her therapist.
The American lawyers also stipulate that K. isn’t even allowed to disparage Ronaldo, and that she is not to speak about him even with her family members. This would create a hard-to-control atmosphere.
Ronaldo’s lawyers sought to guarantee the elimination of any possibility that the secret would ever be revealed. The question of how K. would pay taxes on the settlement money also arose. If she didn’t do it, the lawyers worried, the U.S. tax authorities might develop an interest in the sum in her bank account and K. would have to explain where she got the money from.
Ronaldo’s lawyers also discussed paying the settlement sum of $375,000 through a company that normally sells advertising rights for Ronaldo: Multisports & Image Management, which is registered in Ireland, a tax haven.
On July 31, Osório de Castro finally gave the green light to the agreement negotiated by the American lawyers. This concluded the Las Vegas case for Cristiano Ronaldo. He went on to start the new football season with Real Madrid.
When DER SPIEGEL asked Osório de Castro to comment, he answered that it is the corporate policy of his firm not to comment on any matters related to his clients — and that one shouldn’t draw any conclusions from his refusal to comment.
So, what does the truth cost? And what is the price of a lie?
Susan K.’s letter to Ronaldo is also part of the out-of-court settlement. Clause 10 states that the text must be read to Ronaldo by his lawyer, Osório de Castro.
In it, Susan K. writes: “I don’t care about your money that was the last thing I wanted!! I wanted justice! There really is ‘no justice’ in this case.” She mentions “medical records” listing the injuries she sustained from Ronaldo. Susan K.’s story is that of a traumatized woman. “My life will never be the same,” she writes.
So, wouldn’t it have been better for both of them — Ronaldo and K. — to have the matter between them settled definitively in court?
In Ronaldo’s case, because suspicion of a rape would always linger over him?
In Susan K.’s case, for her soul. Her letter to Ronaldo ends with a P.S. She writes that she is sorry about having agreed to the settlement, and adds in bold letters, “Today I would give anything to go back and change my decision!! It has been over a year since you raped me.”
The final two sentences sound like a helpless plea: “I hope you realize what you have done and learned from this terrible mistake!! Don’t take another woman’s life as you did mine!!”
By Rafael Buschmann, Christoph Henrichs, Gerhard Pfeil, Antje Windmann and Michael Wulzinger