Soccer star Lionel Messi is due to give evidence in a Spanish court on tax fraud charges.
The Argentina and Barcelona professional player and his father Jorge Messi, who manages his financial affairs, are accused of defrauding Spain of more than €4 million ($4.5 million) between 2007 and 2009.
Spain’s authorities allege that the two used tax havens in Belize and Uruguay to conceal earnings from image rights.
The tax agency is demanding heavy fines and prison sentences. Both men deny any wrongdoing.
Lionel Messi is to face trial for alleged tax evasion
The trial began on June 1, and June 3 is expected to be the final day. A verdict is not expected until next week.
Evidence is being considered regarding income related to Lionel Messi’s image rights, including contracts with Banco Sabadell, Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter and Gamble, and the Kuwait Food Company.
Lionel Messi’s lawyers had argued that the player had “never devoted a minute of his life to reading, studying or analyzing” the contracts.
However, the high court in Barcelona ruled in June 2015 that the football star should not be granted immunity for not knowing what was happening with his finances, which were being managed in part by his father.
Lionel Messi and his father made a voluntary €5 million ($5.6 million) “corrective payment” – equal to the alleged unpaid tax plus interest – in August 2013.
Soccer star Lionel Messi is to face trial for alleged tax evasion, a Spanish judge has ruled.
The judge rejected a prosecution recommendation to drop the charges on the grounds the player’s father was responsible for his finances.
Lionel Messi and his father Jorge are accused of defrauding the authorities of more than 4 million euros ($5 million).
Lionel and Jorge Messi, who deny wrongdoing, have five days to appeal against the ruling.
It is alleged that they withheld the money between 2007 and 2009.
Lionel Messi is to face trial for alleged tax evasion
The income related to Lionel Messi’s image rights, including contracts with Banco Sabadell, Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter and Gamble, and the Kuwait Food Company.
Lionel Messi and his father are suspected of avoiding paying Spanish tax by using companies in Belize and Uruguay to sell the rights to use Messi’s image.
The judge ruled: “In this type of crime, it is not necessary for someone to have complete knowledge of all the accounting and business operations nor the exact quantity, rather it is sufficient to be aware of the designs to commit fraud and consent to them.”
In August 2013, Lionel Messi and his father made a 5 million euro “corrective payment”, equal to the alleged unpaid tax plus interest.
Lionel Messi has been four times FIFA World Player of the Year and is captain of Argentina.
The court decision comes as Barcelona grapples with a separate prominent legal case.
A Madrid court is hearing a lawsuit that accuses Barcelona of misappropriating funds from the transfer fee to buy Brazil striker Neymar from Santos in 2013.
Barcelona president Sandro Rosell quit in January, but insisted he had “acted correctly” over the transfer.
Barcelona football player Lionel Messi and his father are being investigated in Spain for allegedly defrauding the state of more than 4 million euros.
The 25-year-old Argentina forward and his father, Jorge Horacio, are suspected of filing fraudulent tax returns for 2007-09, officials say.
The World Player of the Year expressed his surprise, denying the allegation.
Lionel Messi’s Barcelona net salary is said to be some 16 million euros a year, making him one of the world’s highest-paid athletes.
He has also signed a number of multimillion-dollar endorsements with major sponsors around the globe.
On Wednesday, a complaint signed by prosecutor Raquel Amado was filed at the courthouse in Gava – the affluent Barcelona district where Lionel Messi lives.
Judges at the courthouse must accept the complaint before the suspects can be charged, reports say.
Lionel Messi and his father are accused of three crimes of defrauding the state of taxes related to income from the use of his image.
They are suspected of using companies abroad – in Belize and Uruguay – to sell the rights to use the image.
Lionel Messi and his father are being investigated in Spain for allegedly defrauding the state of more than 4 million euros
The accusation is that with the help of firms based outside Spain, where he lives and plays club football, Lionel Messi and his father avoided paying more than 4 million euros in tax.
If convicted, Lionel Messi could face up to six years in prison and a large fine, according to Spain’s EFE news agency.
Responding to the allegations, the footballer expressed his surprise, saying he had only learned about the investigation against him through the media.
Lionel Messi wrote on his Facebook page: “We have never committed any infringement. We have always fulfilled all our tax obligations, following the advices of our tax consultants who will take care of clarifying this situation.”
Argentina’s media also appeared puzzled by Wednesday’s development, with the Clarin newspaper describing it as “unexpected news”.
Barcelona FC have not commented on the allegations.
The investigation comes as the Spanish authorities step up their efforts to clamp down on tax fraud, as the government tries to balance its budget during a continuing economic crisis.
Lionel Messi, who comes from a humble background and has overcome a serious health issue, joined Barcelona as a 13-year-old in 2000, and made his first-team debut three years later.
He soon became one of the most influential players at the Catalan team, winning Europe’s most prestigious club competition – the Champions League – three times.
Last year, Lionel Messi scored a record 91 goals for club and country in a calendar year.
Four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi is now considered by many experts to be one of football’s best ever players.