Charity soccer matches organized under the name of Argentinean star Lionel Messi in four countries in 2012 and 2013 raked in hundreds of thousands of euros that were later stashed away in secret bank accounts in Curaçao and Hong Kong, according to a Civil Guard investigation.
Investigators from the force’s Central Operation Unit (UCO) are delving into Messi’s finances as part of an ongoing Madrid court investigation into alleged financial crimes committed by event promotion firm Total Conciertos.
The promoter in 2012 organized concerts in Spain for popular Mexican ranchera singer Vicente Fernández that Spanish authorities believe were used to help launder money for a Colombian drug cartel.
Investigators have asked a judge to send a judicial team to Curaçao to find out who owns the account
Total Conciertos also organized a series of charity matches under the title “Messi and his friends against the rest of the world” involving the Barcelona star and club teammates Javier Mascherano, Dani Alves and goalkeeper José Manuel Pinto in Colombia and the United States in 2012 and 2013.
During his interrogation last June, Guillermo Marín, the man who represented Messi for the games and helped organize them, at first said the Barça superstar did not receive any money for his pitch appearances. He later admitted that the Leo Messi Foundation received $50,000 for each game – a total of $300,000 (€266,000).
Under pressure, Marín also confessed that he ordered money to be deposited – but without specifying how much – in favor of the firm Mandatos Valneg SRL in a First Caribbean International Bank account on the island of Curaçao.
Nevertheless, Marín contradicted himself on various occasions during his interrogation, leaving UCO investigators with a lot of unanswered questions about where the money generated by the charity matches ended up.
Messi is already under investigation by a Barcelona court for fraud and tax evasion stemming from his earnings in 2007, 2008, and 2009. The 26-year-old Argentinean forward, who was called to testify before a Barcelona judge last year, has denied any wrongdoing. As a Spanish resident he is obligated to declare all the income he earns in Spain and abroad to the country’s tax authorities. A judge has ordered him to stand trial after ruling he benefited from these earnings and may have known of front companies set up to protect him, even though his father has admitted to carry out the accounting.
The alleged charity matches in which Messi and other Barça players took part were held in Cancún, Mexico; Bogota, Colombia; and Miami, in 2012, and in Medellín, Colombia; Lima, Peru, and Chicago in 2013.
The Civil Guard, which has been looking into the case for more than a year, discovered that it was Marín who ordered the transfers through Total Conciertos, which organized the two matches in Colombia and one in the United States. Five bank transfers of funds generated by the two games in Colombia, which together totaled more than €1 million, were made to the Caribbean island, investigators believe.
Marín did not clarify who owned the account in Curaçao. But he did say he was the face of a Uruguayan promotor, Player’s Image, which is represented by a group of lawyers who are connected to Mandatos Valneg and name-bearers on the account.
In tax havens, lawyers often serve as front men to hide the real owners of bank accounts.
The Civil Guard has asked Madrid Judge Eduardo López Palop to send an international judicial committee to Curaçao to determine who is behind the bank account. The surnames “Messi-Marín” appear on the upper right-hand side of bank transfer forms filled out by Total Conciertos.
Authorities suspect that transfers were also made to Hong Kong, even though Marín told the Civil Guard that he was unaware that accounts existed in the former British colony.
Other witnesses have referred to “cuatro melones” (four melons), or $4 million (€3.55 million), as the amount Messi received for his pitch appearances.
Marín told UCO investigators that he has spent the last 20 years working as a go-between for brands and well-known sportspeople, and admitted to earning a commission from the agreements he signed. He said he helped organize six games.
Marín told investigators that Total Conciertos representative Andrés Barco promoted the matches as charity games. The only agreement that existed was that the jerseys carried the Messi Foundation logo, which was the origin of the $300,000 payment that Messi would receive for six games and for bringing his teammates along, he said.
Messi and his Barça teammates have denied receiving money for their appearances
Except for travel expenses and hotel stays, Messi and his teammates have denied receiving money for their appearances. But that wasn’t the case with others. Coach Fabio Capello and some other players wanted to be paid for their participation.
Messi and other players traveled in a private jet that was likely paid for by Total Conciertos, in the case of the Colombian matches.
Last month, the economic crimes prosecutor asked Judge Eduardo López Palop, who is handling the case against Total Conciertos, to subpoena Marín as “an official witness” while the UCO wants him to appear as an official suspect.
Marín, who lives in Buenos Aires but visits Spain regularly, may have to appear in court next month.