Ex-Barcelona player Dani Alves sentenced to prison for sexual assault

Catalonia’s top court on Thursday found former Brazil footballer Dani Alves guilty of sexually assaulting a woman in a Barcelona nightclub in 2022, sentencing him to 4½ years in prison.

The court also ordered that Alves pay 150,000 euros ($162,990) to the victim.

“The sentence considers that it has been proven that the victim did not consent, and that there is evidence, in addition to the testimony of the plaintiff, to consider the rape proven,” the court said in a statement.

Alves had maintained the sex was consensual and his lawyers told reporters outside the courthouse that he intends to appeal the sentence, which also includes a five-year probation upon release and a 9½-year restraining order.

However, Alves will be able to request leave for short periods from the prison near Barcelona where he is being held once he has served a quarter of the sentence and meets other requirements, a court official said.

The court said that as well as the victim’s testimony, it considered as evidence that she suffered a knee injury after Alves pushed her to the floor, as well as Alves’ behaviour and hers following the event and the fact that she suffered aftereffects.

“We are satisfied as the sentence recognises what we’ve been saying all along: that the victim was telling the truth and that she suffered,” David Saenz, a member of the victim’s legal team, told reporters, adding that the team would analyse whether the sentence corresponds to the gravity of the crime.

Alves’ lawyer, Inés Guardiola, disagreed with the sentencing, saying: “We are going to appeal. I still believe in Dani Alves’ innocence. We haven’t read the whole sentence yet because it’s very long, but we are going to study it in detail now. We defend [Alves’] innocence.”

The prosecutor had sought a nine-year prison term for Alves and the victim requested 12 years, but the court landed on 4½ years, saying it considered that he had opted to pay the victim the compensation regardless of the outcome of the trial as a mitigating factor.

The victim’s lawyer, Ester García, questioned whether it was fair that defendants with money should be able to pay for a lighter sentence.

“I reserve the right to take legal action and it is my understanding that from a legal point of view there should be an appeal,” García said.

Even so, Garcia said her client was satisfied that Alves had been found guilty. “In the end, they believed me,” the victim said, according to García.

Alves, 40, was arrested in January 2023 after being accused of sexually assaulting a woman in the bathroom of an upscale Barcelona nightclub in the early hours of Dec. 31, 2022.

Alves had remained in preventive pretrial prison in Spain ever since, with a judge turning down regular requests for bail and deeming him a flight risk.

The case was heard over three days at a court in Barcelona earlier this month, with Alves changing his story for the fifth time shortly before the trial began.

At first, he maintained he did not know the woman accusing him. He later said he had met the woman in the bathroom of the club but that nothing happened.

The former Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain defender, when confronted with biological evidence, changed his version of events again, saying she had consensually performed oral sex on him.

In April, following the results of further biological tests, Alves admitted for the first time that he had sex with the woman, claiming it was consensual and that he had lied to hide his infidelity to his wife.

Ahead of the hearing, Alves stated for the first time that he was drunk that night.

“I am not that type of man,” Alves said in response to his defence lawyer asking during the trial whether he had forced the woman to have sexual relations.

The woman told state prosecutors that she danced with Alves and willingly entered the bathroom, but that later when she wanted to leave he would not let her. She said he slapped her, insulted her and raped her.

Alves denied that.

“We were both enjoying ourselves,” Alves said, while repeatedly saying that the woman never asked to leave or made any indication that she did not want to have sexual relations with him. He also denied having slapped or insulted her.

During the three-day trial, a friend and cousin of the victim said she was “distraught” after exiting the bathroom, while police officers who attended to her that night testified she was greatly shaken and told them she had been sexually assaulted by Alves.

Alves’ friend who was with him said the footballer drank wine and whiskey before going to the nightclub; being drunk can be considered an extenuating factor by a court and lead to a shorter prison sentence.

The friend said Alves and the woman danced together and showed “chemistry” before going into the bathroom and that he hadn’t noticed anything wrong with the woman afterward.

A forensic psychologist who examined the woman testified that she was suffering from post-traumatic symptoms, a conclusion that was disputed by an outside expert called by the defence.

Spain Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Díaz said she hoped the verdict “serves as an exemplary measure for all the sexist behaviors that women suffer in all areas of our lives.”

The Alves case was the first high-profile sex crime since Spain overhauled its legislation in 2022 to make consent central to defining a sex crime in response to an upswell of protests after a gang-rape case during the San Fermin bull-running festival in Pamplona in 2016.

The legislation popularly known as the “only yes means yes” law defines consent as an explicit expression of a person’s will, making it clear that silence or passivity do not equal consent. The law, however, initially led to reduced sentences for hundreds of sex offenders because it set up lower minimum sentences, like the one applied to Alves, before being reformed.

Irene Montero, the former equality minister who championed the “only yes means yes” law, welcomed the ruling.

“The sentence against Dani Alves clearly establishes that he committed sexual assault because the victim did not consent. It is the result of the feminist fight for the right to sexual freedom and for putting consent at the center,” she wrote on X.

Throughout a career that lasted over 20 years, Alves won major titles with elite clubs including Barça, Juventus and PSG. He also helped Brazil win Copa América twice and an Olympic gold medal at the age of 38.

He played at his third World Cup, the only major title he has not won, in 2022. He played for Barça from 2008 to ’16 and briefly rejoined the club for a second spell in 2022 before moving to Mexico with Pumas.

Alves’ contract with the Mexican club was terminated immediately following his arrest.

Information from Reuters, the Associated Press and ESPN’s Sam Marsden contributed to this report.