Six months after Ronaldo was accused of rape, why is the case in legal limbo?
IT’S BEEN MORE than five months since Stovall announced Mayorga’s lawsuit and the police reopened their investigation. There has been no announcement about whether charges will be filed against Ronaldo, no update on whether the police have discovered anything that makes them believe officers were compromised during the initial investigation. Police did request a DNA sample from Ronaldo, which is common and, since Ronaldo’s team doesn’t deny that there was a sexual encounter, not necessarily that damaging.
It is a disquieting limbo. While Mayorga, according to her attorneys, is still battling depression related to the alleged assault and has spent many weeks away from home in Nevada to avoid the media crush, Ronaldo has not faced any significant fallout. He continues to score goals and post photos of his family, his team celebrations and his impeccable physique on Instagram to his 156.3 million followers. His main American sponsors — Nike and EA Sports — made statements expressing concern about the allegations but took no substantive action.
Ronaldo’s club is steadfast in its support. Juventus, an Italian club looking to keep up with more popular, wealthier teams in England and Spain, broke the league transfer record to sign Ronaldo last July and, even with a rape accusation dangling over its new star, basks in his fame: Shares are up; millions of fans are latching on to the club’s social platforms; ticket and jersey sales are soaring.
Initially, it seemed as though Ronaldo thought this would simply go away. In an Instagram Live post shortly after the lawsuit was announced, he casually described Mayorga’s allegations as “fake news” and said it was “normal” that someone would “wanna be famous — to say my name.” He added that situations like this are “part of the job.”
Ronaldo kept with that theme when he released a more standard statement a few days later in which he denied raping Mayorga and said rape is “an abominable crime,” adding, “I refuse to feed the media spectacle created by people seeking to promote themselves at my expense. My clear [conscience] will thereby allow me to await with tranquillity the results of any and all investigations.”
That last part might be a clue to his legal team’s approach: running the clock. While the criminal investigation slogs on, Mayorga’s civil suit against Ronaldo has stalled as well. That is primarily because Ronaldo has still not officially been served notice of the lawsuit. Serving a lawsuit to someone who lives abroad is a tricky process that requires following rules set forth in international treaties, and Ronaldo has not authorized his American attorney to accept on his behalf. Peter S. Christiansen, who has not returned ESPN’s calls and messages since the visit to his office, isn’t even listed as an attorney of record in the court’s digital filing of Mayorga’s lawsuit. That space is blank.
Stovall and his associates have been unsuccessful serving Ronaldo in Italy. The initial 120-day period expired at the beginning of February, and Stovall has filed a motion asking the court to grant an extension and to allow service by leaving the paperwork at Juventus’ training center or via public notification (publishing the lawsuit in Las Vegas and Turin newspapers in lieu of handing Ronaldo a copy). According to portions of the motion published by the Daily Mail , an English tabloid, the Italian process server hired by Stovall spent several months trying to serve Ronaldo but was stymied at every turn. At one point, per the motion, the server reported that Juventus players are treated “like royalty” in Turin, making it nearly impossible to access Ronaldo. From Ronaldo’s perspective, that is presumably the idea.
“A rich defendant can wear down a plaintiff with lesser means,” says Abed Awad, an attorney and legal commentator with experience in international law. “It’s a delaying tactic, and it’s a calculated strategy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it backfires.”
Maybe, at some point, there will be a criminal charge. Maybe, at some point, the civil case will proceed. For now, only dribs and drabs tumble out, barely registering beneath the regular cacophony of a famous athlete’s buzz: Ronaldo’s mother said she believes Mayorga knew when she went to Ronaldo’s hotel that it “wasn’t to play cards.” A former girlfriend of Ronaldo’s has said she was bullied and threatened by him. (After speaking with her, Stovall says he doesn’t see a helpful connection.) In January, Ronaldo had a different brush with the law, this time in Spain, where he settled a tax evasion charge stemming from his time at Real Madrid. Meanwhile, the rape case is in limbo.
This, it seems, is the reality of fame. The type of fame Ronaldo enjoys means power — the power to hide in plain sight, to appear on screens in every country every weekend yet avoid being served. Ronaldo might not be above the law, but he can surround himself with a protective layer of lawyers, private investigators and fixers so thick he can hover above it for a lot longer than most.
And so, Ronaldo continues to score goals. Juventus continues to thrive. And Mayorga, with her scars now bared to all the world, continues to wait.