Judge confirms Leo Messi remains official target in tax fraud case

Argentinean soccer star “may have been aware and consented to network of front firms”

Messi arrives at the Gavà court last September.
Messi arrives at the Gavà court last September.GIANLUCA BATTISTA

Was soccer star Lionel Messi aware of, and responsible for, the network of companies that his father has admitted to setting up to avoid paying taxes on income from the player’s image rights?

The answer to the question will now have to await trial as the investigating judge in the case has decided that the Barcelona forward should remain an official suspect in the tax fraud inquiry into his business affairs.

The decision by a judge from Gavà, Barcelona province, states that the proceedings so far show that “Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccitini may have been aware of and consented to the creation and preservation of a network of fictitious companies, whose only end was to avoid complying with tax obligations.”

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio, have been accused of three counts of tax fraud worth €4.1 million over three years (2007, 2008 and 2009). In that time Messi obtained €10.1 million from companies that used his image. However, those rights were ceded to firms based in the tax havens of Belize and Uruguay for minimal amounts and the revenues derived were not declared in Spain.

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The family deposited the €4.1 million owed, plus interest, with the courts last August – a total of €5 million – but the court does not consider this relevant in deciding whether or not Messi should remain under scrutiny.

The public prosecutor had asked for the investigation to be shelved as it believes the player was unaware of his father’s methods of managing his assets. But it was not an opinion shared by the solicitor general’s office.

The judge points to such evidence as the fact that the contracts “arrived personally signed” by Messi and a representative of the front company with the peculiarity that it was always the same one. The player “may have been informed” about the involvement of these people or “may have read” part of the contracts, the ruling says. It also points out that Messi is apparently the only partner in one of the companies in the network, Jenbril, S.A.

“All these pieces of evidence already existed at the time at which the complaint was admitted” from the Attorney General’s office, the judge added, “without the investigation proceedings carried out having distorted or contradicted them.”

For these reasons it has rejected the public prosecutor’s request and left Messi and his father on the verge of a trial.

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